Ball tampering, currently a level 2 offence, will most certainly be considered a graver indiscretion as ICC reviews its code of conduct following recent poor behaviour from players, which culminated in the ball-tampering scandal in the Cape Town Test between South Africa and Australia. Like other things, handling of the ball and what is considered legal will go through a thorough reassessment and will be defined more clearly. The review of the code of conduct will seek to clearly define what the spirit of the game is, identify what is acceptable behaviour, and assess whether the offences are being dealt with with appropriate seriousness and handed appropriate penalties.
Player behaviour has been an issue for years of late with ICC introducing a demerit points system, which stick to a player's record for 24 months. It has clearly not been a big enough deterrent. A review of the code, the ICC CEO David Richardson said, was imminent but the recent events have necessitated urgent action. The matter was supposed to be discussed at ICC meetings in April, but will be dealt with alacrity now. This was an appropriate time and a great opportunity for the ICC to draw a line in the sand, Richardson said.
"We have seen a number of incidents of poor player behaviour in recent weeks including things like some ugly sledging, abusive language, send-offs, dissent against umpire decisions, we had a walk-off in the tri-series in Sri Lanka, and now this ball-tampering episode in the latest series," Richardson said. "In fact player behaviour and player conduct was already on our agenda for the April meeting, but I think what happened in Cape Town has certainly created an additional sense of urgency that something needs to be done."
The review of the code of conduct will be carried out by a group that will involve the ICC's cricket committee, the MCC, and former players who according to the ICC played the game in the right spirit. Current players will also be represented. Richardson emphasised the need for getting on board former players with repute. "Players from the past that we think have epitomised the way the game should be played… Names that come to mind immediately are Allan Border, Anil Kumble, Shaun Pollock, Courtney Walsh… these are all players that played with aggression, passion. Richie Richardson will be another one. He was brilliant when he was captain of West Indies. These are players that played with passion and aggression and determination but never never overstepped the mark. Never were abusive. Never resorted to personal sledging. And - to my knowledge anyway - no tampering of the ball."
Richardson said he was taken aback by the enormity of the reaction the specific incident of ball tampering has received. "It has been an eye opener for me, that, 'Hang on, ball tampering around the world is considered cheating.' And if we are going to take the attitude that everyone does it, if we allow a little bit of lip balm on occasion, raise the quarter seam on another, then where do we draw the line? Is that okay and using sandpaper is not? We probably need to look at it again. Let's be absolutely clear what we mean when we say ball tampering is not allowed. And what we mean by ball tampering."
Richardson admitted the penalty available for ball tampering in this instance - maximum of a one-Test ban for captain Steven Smith - handicapped the ICC a little. He said that was not the case when the playing conditions were first formulated. "It is only subsequently that we have come to realise that, 'Hang on, the world, not only Australia, regards ball tampering in a very serious light. That, I think we identified as the need to look at the level of the penalty imposed specific to ball tampering."
The ICC's history with controlling ball tampering has been eventful with officials mostly being aware of a certain level of tampering they felt they could live with. "The way the match officials have looked at it is, we have been aware of it," Richardson said. "When it became obvious that some of the teams were doing things to the ball that they shouldn't, ICC directed the umpires to conduct regular inspections of the ball. At one stage we were inspecting the ball at the end of every over. This is going back to the early 2000s.
"Then there was a feeling that we have got it under control a bit, and maybe they were inspecting the ball on irregular occasions. They still do that. They are trying to enforce but it is very difficult to impose. I remember Steve Bucknor used to always sniff the ball for sunscreen or all that on the ball. I think we are aware that ball tampering to some degree takes place.
"In recent times we are getting a sense that teams might be going to more extraordinary lengths to tamper with the ball. Australia in Cape Town was an example of that. As I said it is very difficult to impose but what is more difficult is when you accuse the player of tampering with the ball, you are effectively accusing him of cheating. So the match officials are reluctant to step in unless they are absolutely sure. At international level, they are so many cameras in the game, if they can help us in identifying them - I don't think we should go out of the way and instruct television crews to specifically look for it - but when it becomes apparent then we need to take strict action."
In the short term, Richardson said, it was important to identify and define these offences so that it is easier to implement them. "I think it will take a longer time to implement a culture of respect," Richardson said. "That doesn't happen overnight. So that might take a little bit longer, certainly I don't see there will be total revamp of code but being clear in knowing what do we mean when we say ball tampering and what do we mean when we say you can't use abusive language.
"In my view, we can be more definitive in those regards. Look we can say if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. That's what we can do short term but as we say, implementing it will take a bit longer."