SA need to be careful with the ball - Domingo
South Africa either need to become more discreet in their management of the match ball or stop trying to manipulate it to their advantage. That was the message from coach Russell Domingo in the aftermath of the Vernon Philander ball-tampering episode.
"I'm sure other sides are probably a little bit better at doing it than we are and it's maybe something that we cut out completely," Domingo said after play on day four. "It's not something that we pride ourselves on; it's not the way we want to play it."
Philander was fined 75% of his match fee after pleading guilty to breaching clause 42.1 of the ICC's match playing conditions which relate to changing the condition of the ball. Footage, which was not broadcast but was viewed by the match officials after play on day three, showed Philander "scratching the ball with his fingers and thumb."
Although the on-field umpires had not noticed anything amiss with the ball during the day, the evidence was considered "compelling" enough for a CSA source to reveal that it prompted Philander not to contest the charge. Domingo confirmed that the threat of a greater sanction and the existence of video evidence was what prompted Philander to admit guilt.
"If didn't plead and was found guilty, he'd miss a Test match," Domingo said. "Admitting guilt is almost as though we're saying 'lets just move on and focus on what we are going to do here,' and put it behind us. If they've got footage, nine out of ten times the footage will find you guilty so I suppose so it's difficult to argue if they can see something that they think you shouldn't be doing. So it's probably just an easier route to admit guilt and move on."
Domingo has not seen the video evidence and he will not request it but maintained that he regarded Philander's as unintentional even though it comes just nine months after another South African, Faf du Plessis was fined for the same offence. "We always try and play the game in the spirit thats its intended to. Its not something that we try to do," Domingo said.
"I don't know if we are getting a reputation. It's something we don't try and intentionally do. It's not that the side says, 'this is what we are going to go and do.' Vernon claims to have cleaned the ball and he has been seen on television scratching the ball. The umpires said the ball's state hadn't been changed at all and that says it all. We haven't the seen the footage but it's done. I don't think a big distraction at all. It's unfortunate. We've got to move on and focus on the nine wickets we've got to get tomorrow."
Sri Lanka's coach Marvan Atapattu also regarded the matter closed. "It has been taken care of," he said. When asked what he would say if one of them was charged with the same offence as Philander, Atapattu cheekily replied: "I don't even have to think about it because I'm sure they don't do it."
Atapattu was similarly jovial about the task facing Sri Lanka on the final day - to go where no team has gone before in Galle in search of the highest fourth-innings score at this ground. A lead of 369 was considered enough by South Africa to declare with four sessions left in the game and Domingo explained that time, not a target, was foremost on their minds.
"In the game where Pakistan batted against Sri Lanka they needed 114 overs to bowl them out. We felt we would need 110 to 120 overs in the last innings," Domingo said.
Sri Lanka have already seen off 32 of those overs and have lost only one wicket. Ideally, Domingo would have liked to have them "three down overnight" but said the squad would "reflect on our plans and come back and bowl better than we did today."
Although Domingo did not say it, he would likely be expecting more of legspinner Imran Tahir, who has not yet come to the fore at this spinner-friendly venue. The presence of Tahir, JP Duminy and a third spin option in Dean Elgar in addition to their pace prowess gave South Africa the confidence to declare at a time that some have called earlier than expected.
This match has already defied some expectations though and Atapattu was not surprised to see another assumption - that South Africa would opt for safety first - dismantled. "South Africa are renowned as a side that poses challenges to the opposition," he said. "When you have almost everything in your attack - fast bowlers, swing, reverse-swing and a legspinner - it's a fair declaration and it's a challenge for us."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent