The West Indies and Sri Lanka cricket teams have just concluded one of the most absorbing three-test series in recent history which ended level at 1-1 with one game drawn and included some world class individual performances which constantly swung the initiative from one team to the other.
West Indies’ fast Bowler Shannon Gabriel was the undoubted star of the series with a haul of 20 wickets including 13 in one game – a new record for a test in West Indies. Sri Lanka’s paceman Lahiru Kumara was not far behind Gabriel with 17 wickets and both players clocked a pace of over 145k and had the opposition batsmen in constant strife.
In a bowler dominated series there were some sterling efforts by a few batsmen. Skipper Dinesh Chandimal and Kusal Mendis scored Sri Lanka’s only two centuries – both innings requiring great application and concentration and helped rescue the side. Mendis followed his ton with a polished 87 and held eight smart catches – including six in the final test.
A feature of the series was the batting of the West Indies lower order and a reflection of this was the fact that their highest scorer was wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich who batted at number six and hit his side’s only century and registered two more fifties as he marshalled the lower order to add vital runs to the total.
Unfortunately these superlative individual efforts will not get the recognition they deserve because they were overshadowed by the ball tampering controversy in the second test, with Sri Lanka’s captain Chandimal cast in the unusual role of chief villain.
In Sri Lanka where cricket is almost a religion and national cricketers treated as demi gods, it was indeed a sad day for the millions of fans as they watched in horror, their captain Chandimal bring shame to the whole country with a blatant attempt to cheat by changing the condition of the ball to gain an unfair advantage.
Historically the game of cricket has been symbolised by etiquette, manners, upright behaviour and fair play. It is the only sport in the world to have a ‘Spirit of the Game’ enshrined in its Laws, a fact players and administrators take great pride in. Indeed the term “it’s not cricket” is widely used in the English language to refer to something that’s unfair, unsportsmanlike, not acceptable, illegitimate etc. and is even used in America where the sport is still relatively unknown.
The laws of the game are prefaced with a special reference to the spirit of the game thus: ‘Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains.’
Before the commencement of every cricket series the Match Referee in his traditional address to the two teams reminds them about the spirit in which the game needs to be played and warns them about the severe consequences for anyone found in breach of the spirit of the game.
The sport of cricket was rocked to the core only as recently as March this year with several Australian players being found guilty of blatantly attempting to cheat in a test and then admitting to the fact when the evidence was overwhelmingly against them. The players were all punished by the International Cricket Council (ICC) but what was more heartening to fans around the world was the fact that the Australian Cricket Authorities, fuelled by a deep sense of shame and anger in the country, went even further and banned the players from the sport for a year.
It would be great if the Sri Lanka Cricket management would react in a similar vein and send a clear statement to the world that it will not tolerate such behaviour. The coach and manager should also receive severe punishment because Chandimal was clearly influenced into doing what he did. In fact the manager has been nothing but trouble since his appointment and this is the ideal opportunity to get rid of him for good.
Chandimal made a very foolish attempt to tamper with the ball despite knowing full well that there are over 32 cameras covering all aspects and angles of the match and although they are not all included in the match broadcast, the recordings are stored and available if needed for any inquiry.
The act was so blatant, that Chandimal will not be able to convince any one of the Lankan fans who viewed the video of the incident that he is innocent. He certainly failed to convince the Match Referee Javagal Srinath who did not mince his words in the ICC statement issued on the incident.
“After reviewing the footage of the incident, it is clear that Dinesh applied an artificial substance to the ball, namely saliva containing the residue of something he had in his mouth, an action which is prohibited under the ICC Code of Conduct,” Match Referee Srinath said in the statement.
“The footage shows that upon receiving the ball, Dinesh took something from his pocket and put it into his mouth. After sucking or chewing whatever he put in his mouth for a few seconds, Dinesh then proceeded to spit on his finger and polish the ball with his saliva which would have contained the residue of the artificial substance that he had in his mouth, on two separate occasions.
“During the hearing, Dinesh admitted to putting something in his mouth but couldn’t remember what it was, which I found unconvincing as a defence and the fact remains it was an artificial substance.
In the pre-series briefing held on the back of the ICC Cricket Committee recommendations, both sides were explicitly told that the match officials would be extra vigilant towards all aspects of fair play, including changing the condition of the ball and as such it is disappointing that this has happened.”
The Sri Lankans aggravated an already bad situation by refusing to take the field for over two hours after match officials had asked for the ball to be changed. In fact, for a while it appeared they might even forfeit the match and they are extremely fortunate that their opponents didn’t press for such a decision.
The actions of Chandimal, coach Chandika Hathurusinghe and manager Asanka Gurusinha compelled Srinath to charge them with a Level 3 offence for conduct contrary to the spirit of the game and impose a five-run penalty on the Lankans when play finally resumed.
The hearing for the Level 3 offence is scheduled for July 10 and all three individuals have already pleaded guilty to the charges and can expect to be penalised with at the very least the minimum punishment. However, given the fact that ICC needs to send a very strong message to all concerned it is quite likely that the trio would face more than the minimum punishment.
When the incident involving the Australian players took place, the Australian Prime Minister himself publicly condemned the act and called for strong action to be taken against the offenders. It is merely wishful thinking to expect that any of our political leaders will have the courage to talk about tampering.
All Sri Lankans are avid cricket fans and they would love to see their team doing well and winning matches – but the team must win fairly and not through cheating – nobody wants that.
The recently concluded test series indicates that there may be some silver lining to all this. Against all odds, a very inexperienced side – without its top three batsmen and top three bowlers – were still able to work as a team and after a hard scrap pull off a record win in the third test and prove to everyone that Sri Lanka can still win without resorting to unfair tactics.