Sweet v sandpaper - why Chandimal's tampering is different

How the St Lucia episode is far different to the punishments and public backlash in Australia in the aftermath of the ball tampering row

Only two months ago, three Australia cricketers were slapped with long suspensions for their role in the ball tampering scandal in Cape Town. Dinesh Chandimal, however, is unlikely to face punishments beyond the one-Test suspension the ICC has dealt out for the tampering itself (the "spirit of cricket" charge is a separate one). Here is why the two incidents will be treated differently.
There is minimal outrage in Sri Lanka
Where Cricket Australia's response was spurred by public condemnation of the Cape Town incident, Sri Lanka's public has, at most, expressed only quiet disappointment so far. Two possible reasons why the public reactions have been dissimilar:
  • Australian sportspeople are generally put on a high pedestal, and allegations of cheating - even for what was a Level 2 ICC offence - are taken seriously. Sri Lanka's cricketers are widely admired, but do not face anywhere near the level of public scrutiny that many others from around the world contend with. Several former players, including the super-popular Kumar Sangakkara, have spoken of the relatively laidback nature of Sri Lankan fame. As such, there is not so high an expectation of morality, even from a Sri Lanka captain.
  • In general, Sri Lanka's cricketers are perceived at home to be relatively well-behaved. Although there is widespread disenchantment with the country's cricket administrators, the players themselves have mostly (but not totally) been immune to public anger over the state of the nation's cricket. Chandimal, in particular, has cultivated an image of modesty and affability. Compare this with the less glowing public profile of the Australia team in the approach to their tampering fallout. As Brydon Coverdale wrote at the time: "with their culture of sledging, whingeing, hypocrisy and arrogance, Australia's cricketers… have become an insufferable national migraine."
  • The series has mostly been good-natured
    Australia's ball-tampering had been preceded by sequence of escalating clashes, hearings and controversies that had brought the cricket spinning to a high-intensity vortex. David Warner had a stairwell confrontation with Quinton de Kock - an incident that went on to manifest itself in ugly and provocative ways, such as the masks some fans wore in the subsequent game (two CSA officials were even suspended for having their photo taken with fans wearing those masks). In addition, there were Kagiso Rabada's brushes with indiscipline, Warner's aggressive wicket celebrations, and sledging from both sides.
    This series in the Caribbean has been low-key in comparison. The teams have played to largely empty stands. At no stage has player discipline been an issue. The two quickest bowlers - Shannon Gabriel and Lahiru Kumara - have frequently breached 145kph, but have done so without riling up the opposition. In this context, Chandimal's tampering was not the cheating cherry on top of an aggro sundae, it was merely a captain seeking an unfair advantage.
    That Cricket West Indies has been quiet through the whole affair is also unsurprising: SLC is assisting the West Indies board with some of the costs of this tour - costs the hosts would ordinarily be required to bear.
    Sri Lanka's long-term tendency has been to forcefully defend its players
    This is partly small-country syndrome, and partly skepticism of international cricket officiating based on past events. When faced with official sanctions, Sri Lanka sides have often closed ranks and adopted a siege mentality - a phenomenon that has sometimes inspired them to famous wins, such as in 2014 against England, where Sachithra Senanayake had been reported for a suspect action.
    There have been many occasions in which this sense of victimhood has been invaluable. The team's unflinching support of Muttiah Muralitharan through the various unfair discriminations over his action, helped protect the player who would become their greatest matchwinner. In 2015, when Kusal Perera had allegedly tested positive for a banned substance, the board once again backed their player and had him cleared.
    This, for better or worse, is the culture this Sri Lanka team has inherited, and it explains a little of why the team was so incensed at their captain being charged on Saturday morning, that they refused to take the field for almost two hours. It also explains why SLC and the sports minister had already issued a release stating: "SLC shall take all necessary steps to defend any player, in the event any unwarranted allegation is brought against a member of the team," before the ICC hearing had taken place.
    No delegation, no evidence of conspiracy.
    At Cape Town, Australia's captain and vice-captain were found to have delegated the actual tampering to one of the most junior members of the side - Cameron Bancroft. Not so here - Sri Lanka's captain stuck his own neck on the line. What had also made the Cape Town scandal worse, is that the men involved initially lied about the substance used. They first said it had been sticky tape, when it had been sandpaper.
    There is no strong leadership at SLC at present
    Even in the unlikely event that there was public pressure to impose its own penalties on Chandimal, this particular leadership group at SLC is unlikely to take that route. In short: the board is presently defunct. Because the previous office-bearers had failed to hold elections before the end of their term on May 31, the government has stepped in and installed a temporary "competent authority" to run cricket while fresh elections can be organised.
    SLC still has a functioning CEO, but there are no policy makers to support him, and the government officials who are standing in, have no previous experience in serious cricket administration. It would be almost unthinkable for them to take as serious an action as strip a player of the captaincy, or hand him a suspension anywhere near as lengthy as those dealt to the Australia players.

    Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando