ICC made serious mistakes to provoke the conduct contrary to spirit of the game – Must warn not suspend Lankans

on July 10th, the ICC will conduct a hearing to determine the penalty that will be imposed on Chandimal, Hathurusinghe and Gurusinghe, for their conduct contrary to the spirit of the game. The charge for ball tampering against Chandimal has already been heard and Chandimal has been found guilty on appeal as well. As such, that case is now closed. The discussion in this post is specific to the circumstances that lead to the charge that will be heard on the 10th. 

Was Chandimal actually guilty of attempting to alter the condition of the ball?
While the ball tampering case has been closed, since it has been a topic of debate, we will briefly discuss the circumstances under which Chandimal was found guilty. 

Video evidence clearly shows Chandimal taking something out of his pocket and putting it in his mouth, seem to suck on it for at least 4 to 5 se
conds and then applying the contaminated saliva on the ball. Whether or not this sequence of events was a deliberate act of a cheater or an instinctive routine of a cricketer’s on field activities, only Chandimal would know.

Chandimal had admitted to having cough lozenges, which the ICC prohibits applying on the ball, and almonds in his pocket. As such, to the suspicious mind, his actions clearly presented “reasonable doubt”, if not certain guilt, that he attempted to use artificial substance to alter the condition of the ball. If anyone, only Chandimal would know for a fact what he had put in his mouth prior to the incident. In his defense Chandimal stated that he could not recall exactly what he put in his mouth at that particular moment. As such, the ICC could not have proven his guilt “beyond any reasonable doubt”. The fact that the Sri Lanka Cricket’s legal team lost the appeal suggests that either their defense was weak or that the law only required that the ICC show “reasonable doubt”.

The remainder of this discussion is specific to the events that lead to the charge "conduct contrary to the spirit of the game".

What exactly does the law state specific to ball tampering penalty
41.3.4 If the umpires consider that the condition of the ball has been unfairly changed by a member or members of either side, they shall ask the captain of the opposing side if he/she would like the ball to be replaced.  If necessary, in the case of the batting side, the batsmen at the wicket may deputies for their captain. If a replacement ball is requested, the umpires shall select and bring into use immediately, a ball which shall have wear comparable to that of the previous ball immediately prior to the contravention.

There is very little ambiguity in the rules specific to sections 41.3.4 and Any reasonable person would interpret these sections of the law as follows:
1.       In order to replace the ball, the umpires must consider that the condition of the ball as been unfairly changed
2.       The replacement ball must be brought into use immediately and must be comparable to that of the previous ball immediately prior to the contravention
Umpires and the match referee made serious mistakes in applying the law to this situation
The alleged offense took place during the second afternoon of the match. Both umpires were seen speaking to and inquiring from Chandimal and Dhananjaya De Silva about the methods they were using to polish the ball. Both umpires were seen closely inspecting the condition of the ball for potential tampering. Yet, the umpires did not find the condition of the ball to have been unfairly changed and did not take any action to replace the ball.  

However, on the third morning of the match, the umpires and the ICC delivered what turned out to be a bigger no-ball than any of the countless no-balls they failed to call during the series! In addition to bringing ball tampering charges against Chandimal, that too just 10 minutes before the start of play, the umpires also decided to change the ball and impose a five-run penalty.  

Not only did the ICC accuse the Sri Lankan captain of cheating without presenting any evidence to support it at the time, they also decided to change the ball that they alleged was tampered during the previous afternoon, but they themselves did not deem to be unfairly changed during the numerous times they inspected it. 
The umpires did not consider the condition of the ball to be unfairly changed during or at the end of the second day’s final session. The ball had been in the umpire’s custody overnight. How on earth then did the ball turn up on the third morning looking unfairly changed? Unless the unfairly changed condition was detected closer to the wrongful act, how could the umpires have found a replacement ball that is “comparable to that of the previous ball immediately prior to the contravention”?

The umpires and the ICC certainly had the right to inform the Sri Lankan’s that they have evidence to believe that Chandimal attempted to alter the condition of the ball. And that they will hold an inquiry at the end of the third day or the match, to decide on the final outcome and possible penalty. However, given the ICC’s own rules and the circumstances, they had no right to change the ball nor impose a five-run penalty.

The recent Australian ball tampering/sandpapering episode provides a perfect example of how the ball changing and five-run penalty is applied (or not). While umpires suspected and questioned Australian players during play, at no point did they deem the ball’s condition as having been unfairly changed. When they eventually had conclusive video evidence showing ball tampering, the umpires in this match did not change the ball nor impose a five-run penalty because they had not previously deemed the ball to have been unfairly changed!

Reaction of the Sri Lankan team was understandable and the time lost was not entirely their fault
Faced with not just an embarrassing accusation, but also a wrongful, unlawful and incomprehensible punishment, the Sri Lankan management had all the right to take the time to digest, consult, decide and react. They had the right to ask for explanations, interpretations, clarifications and options from the umpires and the match referee.

Not only were the Sri Lakan’s being embarrassed and wrongfully accused of having unfairly changed the condition of a ball that looked fine enough to the umpires at the end of the previous day, but were now also being put in a situation of disadvantage from the point of view of the match as a result of the ball change and five-run penalty.

While almost two hours were lost, not all of it was Sri Lanka’s fault. The ICC match referee apparently spent a considerable amount of that time going back and forth seeking guidance from the ICC.

Admittedly, the Sri Lankan’s could have acted differently. They could have accepted the umpire’s decision and opted to play even under protest, but with the knowledge that they could still appeal all accusations at a later time. In a perfect world, yes, they are guilty!  However, the umpires and the match referee along with his ICC advisors made several mistakes, poor judgment and bad decisions in this situation. Even the most reasonable, calm and patient individuals would have reacted irrationally faced with the circumstances the Lankans were presented with. As such, it would only be fair that the Sri Lanka trio be spared of any suspension.

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