Sunil Subramaniam is a former Tamil Nadu left-arm spinner. He was also one of R Ashwin's first coaches. In the middle of the Colombo Test, he took over a new responsibility, that of India's senior men's team's manager. By the end of the Test, though, he would have been a perplexed man. After his first Test in charge, Ravindra Jadeja had been suspended for a Test for accumulating six demerit points, three of them for throwing a ball at the batsman Malinda Pushpakumara in "a dangerous manner".
Jadeja already had three demerit points to his credit for running on the pitch in the Indore Test last October. Demerit points stick to players for two years, and it is conceivable that if Jadeja so much as sneezes on the field at any point before October 2018 - that's when the three points from Indore will be expunged - he might accumulate eight points, which could have him suspended for two Tests or four ODIs or four T20Is. Apart from losing Rs 22.5 lakhs (one full Test and 50% of match fee for the SSC Test), 22 times India's per-capita annual income, Jadeja could even end up losing his No. 1 Test bowler ranking.
You can imagine Subramaniam, who is supposed to accompany the player to the hearing, being overwhelmed by all this in his first week of the job. For if you haven't followed these sanctions properly, you can be surprised by how arbitrary they can be. According to an ICC press release, this throw's manner was deemed "dangerous" because it missed the batsman narrowly. It was Jadeja's last ball of the day. It was an unnecessary throw as the batsman had no intention of taking a run. Such throws are a puerile attempt at gamesmanship or some sort of psychological one-upmanship, and they need to be dealt with.
However, the umpires have to be kidding if this was the only unnecessary and dangerous throw they have seen this series, let alone since the demerits system came about. There have been at least two throws from Virat Kohli that have missed Kusal Mendis narrowly, once in Galle and once in Colombo. They both came from midwicket, and on neither of the occasions was Mendis interested in a run. On both occasions, Mendis brought the umpires' attention to the throw. You could even go into some of the archives on bcci.tv, as a reddit user did and dug out an instance of a much more furious throw from Joe Root that nearly cleaned out KL Rahul. In this case, Root was bowling, just like Jadeja.
If you were to go through archives from India's home season, you are likely to see much more poor behaviour during the series against Australia, which was tolerated by the ICC match officials. This was some of the ugliest cricket seen. A captain practically called his opposite number a cheat but without using the word. Any kid can tell from some of the visuals of send-offs in that series what was being said. There were no sanctions in that series - no bans or fines, and no one even earned a demerit point.
And yet, when poor Kagiso Rabada was heard saying something similar on a stump mic in an otherwise good-natured series in England, he received demerit points, which resulted in a suspension.
The message was clear. You can, in a pre-determined way, in an official press conference, accuse an opposition of systemically working the system if you avoid a certain word. You can mouth off at anybody if you are away from the stumps. However, in a moment of joy, you can't exult in the vicinity of a stump mic. You can throw the ball at the batsman, but you can be pulled up for it randomly.
The process, of course, is not objective. It is the umpires who decide what is dangerous or inappropriate. They report it to the match referee - who gives the player a hearing and then decides whether a sanction is needed and what the sanction is. However, if the next time a bowler is being reprimanded for throwing the ball at the batsman, it will be worthwhile arguing against it, armed with tapes of many other such throws. Bruce Oxenford was the third umpire when Root threw at Rahul; he was on the field when Jadeja threw at Pushpakumara, and when Kohli threw at Mendis.
Umpires are human, their lbw decisions are often completely different in similar scenarios, but these are not lbw calls. These are considered decisions made at the end of a Test match. There has to be some consistency in how the match officials approach these issues, otherwise the ICC will never be able to shed its image. And that image is of a body that allows far more poor behaviour in the name of passionate cricket in series that involve the big three playing against each other (only one sanction out of 51 overall since last September); outside that web, players get suspended for far less. That even within the big three, it is extremely wary of pulling up the superstars for their behaviour (see Root, see Kohli). It seems like a reputation well earned.