25/06/2018 – Jamaica Gleaner. / Forgive me for not writing about the FIFA World Cup this week. Enough is happening in Russia to write volumes about. It was tempting, for example, to write about the failure of Lionel Messi to stamp his class on the tournament so far and what this will all mean to his legacy. Unless his form is completely transformed in Argentina’s third game and results go their way, the rest of the tournament, and the debate about him being the best of all time, may be over for good. There is enough time for that discussion, but there is an issue right here in the Caribbean that we must put under the microscope.
At the beginning of day three of the second Test between the Windies and Sri Lanka in St Lucia, the news reverberated around the cricket world that the Sri Lankans refused to take the field for two hours following ball-tampering charges. My first reaction was “Not again!” After what we witnessed with the Australians in South Africa, you would think teams would be extra cautious. Why would any fielding team be so stupid to try this when the issue of tampering was brought so dramatically to the front burner just a few months ago? According to the umpires, video footage showed the Sri Lankan captain, Dinesh Chandimal, having a sweet in his mouth and then applying saliva to the ball. Personally, I think nothing should be wrong with this, but recent history has shown that the ICC will frown on the practice. South African Faf Du Plessis was sanctioned for doing the exact same thing a few years ago. Chandimal then should have known better. Here is yet another incident where it is a member of the visiting team that is sanctioned for ball tampering, as opposed to a member of the home team. There is a whole lot to be said about this, but I digress. The Sri Lankans chose to take the field two hours late on day three, and this only after much cajoling from the hierarchy of their home board. What point there was in staying off the field for two hours and then deciding to play is lost on me. It seems to me that if, on a point of principle, you are refusing to play, then you have got to take that action all the way, unless, of course, the match officials change their mind about the ball-tampering charge, which, of course, was not the case here. The rather cruel irony is that the Sri Lankans were in a position to force a win in a game that ended in a weather-affected draw. The Windies were asked to make 298 to win and were shakily placed at 148 for five when rain in the final session of play denied Sri Lanka an opportunity to push for victory. That two hours that they opted not to play came back to haunt them in a most inglorious manner. The cricketing gods were surely punishing them for the error of their ways. Realising that they can’t deny the charge itself with video evidence against them, the Sri Lankans have resorted to technicalities.
The charge, they are saying, should have come at the end of day two and not the start of day three. They say the umpires didn’t have a problem with the ball at the end of day two and therefore ought not to have had a problem at the start of day three. That seems a hollow defence to me. Ball-tampering charges don’t necessarily mean ball-altering accusations. The umpires were not necessarily saying the condition of the ball had changed. They were simply saying the Sri Lankan captain was using illegal means to try to get the ball in an advantageous position for the fielding side. The Sri Lankans are also saying that the five penalty runs awarded against them were arbitrarily imposed and not necessarily in keeping with the strict letter of the law. So, in appealing their captain’s one-match ban and his 100 per cent match fee deduction, an interesting legal case now looms between Sri Lanka and the International Cricket Council (ICC). The ICC can also hit the entire hierarchy of the Sri Lankan cricket team for bringing the game into disrepute for their two-hour stand-off.
Interesting times are ahead. The issue is straightforward to me. The Sri Lankan captain should be hit hard for that sweet-in-mouth infraction. He and his management team must also be heavily punished for that two-hour no-show. The ICC must send a strong message here. The cricket gods already punished Sri Lanka for that two-hour delay by bringing rain and denying them a chance of forcing a result in the dying stages of day five. The men at the ICC must follow suit.