The South African cricket team dominated the first two Tests of the series against Australia but regardless of their on-field dominance and success the Proteas have well and truly lost the public relations war.
As much as their cricket was first-class and flawless before the third Test in Adelaide – off the field their handling of the ball tampering incident from the second Test in Hobart involving their skipper Faf du Plessis has left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth.
The South African captain was caught on camera rubbing the ball with spit from a mint-filled mouth and subsequently issued with a ball tampering charge by the ICC.
Following an investigation and hearing he was found guilty of the offence by match referee Andy Pycroft and MCC head of cricket John Stephenson and issued with a fine which was his entire second Test match fee of about $2500.
"The decision was based on the evidence given from the umpires, who confirmed that had they seen the incident they would have taken action immediately, and from Mr Stephenson, who confirmed the view of MCC that the television footage showed an artificial substance being transferred to the ball," the ICC said in a statement.
Du Plessis, who pleaded not guilty to the charge, had been penalised once before in his career in 2013 for ball-tampering in a Test against Pakistan.
He was fined 50 percent of his match fee on that occasion after he was caught on camera rubbing the ball against a zip on his pocket on the third day of the match in Dubai.
Before the start of the Third Test in Adelaide, du Plessis denied cheating and said he had been made a "scapegoat" drawing a distinction between ball tampering and ball shining.
"I still completely disagree with (the verdict). I felt like I've done nothing wrong. It's not like I was trying to cheat or anything, I was shining the ball. It's something that all cricketers do," he said.
Well Faf, you might feel like you have done nothing wrong and in your mind you might not have been trying to cheat – but you contravened the laws of the game in shining the ball with saliva while sucking on an artificial substance.
Interestingly, du Plessis found unlikely ally in his Australian counterpart Steve Smith who was asked for his thoughts on the incident and said: “We, along with every other team around the world shine the ball the same way.”
But that doesn’t make it legal – it is not a defence to say we’ve always done it that way or everyone else does it that way.
And he didn’t get any support from a fellow South African in ICC boss Dave Richardson who described the ball tampering as “pretty obvious.”
“I think the bottom line is if you want to change the condition of the ball by polishing it, in other words improving it, keeping it, retaining its condition do so, but don’t use any artificial substance,” Richardson said.
The ball-tampering charge has made the entire Proteas touring squad angry.
That included their burly security minders who were involved in an ugly incident at Adelaide Airport with a Channel Nine reporter who dared to interview du Plessis about the incident on the team’s arrival and was involved in some push and shove with the team protectors who wanted to shield him from questions.
That was hardly a good look for the Proteas – one can imagine the reaction in the South African press if that had been an Australian team arrival at one of their airports and our team minders reacted that way to an attempt to interview Steve Smith.
Du Plessis has apparently decided to appeal the match referee’s decision and the subsequent ICC finding after the series in Australia is completed.
"In his mind Faf is clear that he did not alter the condition of the ball nor did he intend to do so and that the match referee was not correct to find him guilty. He is understandably feeling aggrieved,” CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat said.
Many cricket followers would feel that Faf got off pretty lightly by just forfeiting his match fee when he could have been issued with a one Test match ban by the ICC and barred from the Adelaide Test.
There were plenty of spectators at the Adelaide Oval who thought he should have been suspended for his actions and were only too happy to voice their dissent with boos when he entered and left the arena on day one (despite scoring an admirable century).
The ICC certainly chose to draw a line in the sand on the issue but did not really make a scapegoat out of the Proteas captain.
Making an example would have involved a match ban.
He got off lightly especially for a second offence.
Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting believed that du Plessis was lucky to escape the saga without a ban for a clear breach of ICC regulations.
“I’ve been a little bit disappointed with the way they’ve reacted to tell the truth,” the former skipper said.
“As has been shown he has been proven guilty.
“They’ve made out it was a storm in a teacup when he’s actually broken an ICC rule.
“He got a 100 per cent match fee – he was probably lucky not to get a suspension.
“It’s not the first time he’s done it either but the game goes on.”
Spot on Punter.
Time to man up Faf – accept that what you did was not within the laws of the game, cop the punishment on the chin, move on and don’t do it again.