Sri Lanka have strongly denied any wrongdoing after being charged with altering the condition of the ball during the St Lucia Test against West Indies. Their players protested the charge - and the subsequent penalty of a ball change and the award of five extra runs to the opposition - by refusing to take the field at the start of the third day's play. The match eventually resumed after a two-hour delay, but Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) have said the players are effectively continuing with the game "under protest".
ESPNcricinfo understands that umpires laid the charge after reviewing footage of the second day's play, and finding evidence pointing to the application of a substance to the ball. Officials privy to the case say the incident was similar to the one involving South Africa captain Faf du Plessis, who was found guilty of altering the condition of the ball during the 2016-17 Test series in Australia.
"The ICC can confirm the match officials in the second Test between West Indies and Sri Lanka changed the ball and awarded 5 penalty runs to West Indies," the ICC later tweeted. "If there are any, Code of Conduct charges will follow as per usual at close of play."
The Sri Lankan board sent out a statement defending its players: "SLC advised the team to take the field to ensure the continuity of the match and wish to commend the decision taken by the team to continue with the game 'under protest' to ensure the upholding of the spirit of the game."
"The team management has informed us that Sri Lankan players have not engaged in any wrongdoing," a board release said. "SLC shall take all necessary steps to defend any player, in the event any unwarranted allegation is brought against a member of the team."
At close of play on day two, West Indies were 118 for 2 in reply to the opposition's first-innings score of 253. Day three was due to start at 9.30am local time, half-an-hour early to make up for time lost to rain delays on day two.
But even as the umpires made their way out to the middle, none of the Sri Lanka players joined them. Broadcaster visuals of their dressing room showed coach Chandika Hathurusingha, captain Dinesh Chandimal and team manager Asanka Gurusinha in discussion with match referee Javagal Srinath.
When the players eventually came onto the field at 10.50am, West Indies were officially given five extra runs and umpires Ian Gould and Aleem Dar oversaw the changing of the ball. The two batsmen at the crease - Devon Smith and Shai Hope - were given the right to choose the replacement, which is the protocol under ICC Law 41.3 (see sidebar).
Before the first ball could be bowled, though, the Sri Lanka players left the middle of the ground and made their way to its periphery, which became the site of further discussions among players, team management, and match officials. It took another 40 minutes for play to finally begin.
An official present at the ground said one of the main reasons Sri Lanka did not take the field was because "the umpires informed them about the ball change just 10 minutes before the start today without evidence of any footage."
It is understood that the umpires were concerned about the condition of the ball at the end of the second day's play. "We did see the umpires looking at the ball a few times yesterday, but there was no statement made at the end of the day," the official said. "It all happened this morning."
The controversy comes at a time when SLC is under inexperienced and temporary leadership. Although CEO Ashley de Silva is still in his job, the board has no office bearers at the moment because the previous administration's term had expired on May 31, before fresh elections could be held. A "Competent Authority" effectively appointed by the government presently runs the SLC, and sports minister Faiszer Mustapha - who was in the crisis meeting which advised the team - has himself only done his job for a matter of months.
The SLC release did not confirm whether the team will officially contest the ball-tampering charge when an inquiry is held into the incident, after play on Saturday. But based on this official denial, it seems likely that the charge will be contested. Sri Lanka's team management refused to comment when approached directly.
This is the second time in two years that Sri Lanka have found themselves part of a controversy over the condition of the ball. Allrounder Dasun Shanaka was charged for a similar offence by the ICC in November 2017 and in that case the team accepted the sanction.
A previous instance of a side refusing to take the field after a ball change came at The Oval in 2006, when Pakistan chose not to come out after tea on day four, after umpire Darrell Hair changed the ball and awarded five penalty runs to England. Pakistan eventually forfeited the Test.