“How do you police it? The umpires already have enough to do. Do we walk round with our mouths open like we are going to the dentist?” Now if you take the quote in isolation and asked to guess who the speaker is, it’s unlikely that you’ll come up with the right answer, that is England skipper Alastair Cook in BBC’s Test Match Special. For he generally keeps himself abreast of caustic remarks, least of all controversial. He usually speaks as he bats, without much bristle or bluster.
But here his tone was palpably agitative, for the topic was the mint-gate scandal. He, like his teammate Chris Woakes on Thursday, felt disquieted than irritated about how the Faf du Plessis incident had been handled over the last few days, the latest being the ICC expressing their disappointment at the South African skipper’s decision to appeal the fine.
It must have happened in a different time zone, but the English have expressed their opinions as if bound by a moral obligation. Not just the Englishmen, but various present and former international cricketers have sprung up in support of Du Plessis.
Cook’s contention was since there’s no particular clarity about a certain aspect of the game, censuring players is not judicious. “When a player gets caught for something not clear, not clearly mentioned among the laws, then it’s not just to punish somebody,” he opined.
So there needs to be an immediate clarification of the law, he feels. “Players are slightly uncertain at the moment, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. I haven’t studied Faf’s case that closely to see if he was taking the sweet straight to the ball or did he just happen to have a lolly in his mouth. I think the players are now, after the last 10 days, probably just looking to the ICC to clarify what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. If they said you aren’t allowed to directly put your finger from the sweet onto the ball, it might clear it up,” he had said in the pre-match press conference.
He also throws in another possibility. “If a guy is chewing a gum or just throwing jelly beans in his mouth at drinks break and then happens to shine the ball in the next over, it becomes a very grey area,” he remarked. He even admitted he wasn’t sure how much applying sugary saliva helped reverse swing. “Frankly, I don’t know, I haven’t tried it. You should maybe ask Michael Vaughan (former England captain),” he grinned. The inference was clear, as Vaughan was England’s skipper in the epic 2005 Ashes, where England bowlers maximised their expertise of reverse swing to rattle the Australians.
Years after that win, opener Marcus Trescothick, deputed with the ball-shining task, admitted using Murray Mint to shine the ball. “It was my job to keep the shine on the new ball for as long as possible with a bit of spit and a lot of polish – and through trial and error I finally settled on the best type of spit for the task at hand. I had a go at Murray Mints and found they worked a treat,” he said.
But still, there are only a few player testimonials than any scientific evidence to substantiate the alchemy of sugary saliva on the leather ball. Until and unless that’s established, the best way will be to either ban the mint and candies or the ICC to furnish the law with more clarity.
His counterpart, Virat Kohli, brushed off the allegation that he had used the same method as Du Plessis in Rajkot. He gave it a conspiracy theory kind of spin to it. “I don’t read newspapers. I was told five days after the thing came out and I just laughed it off. I don’t pay attention to all those things. It’s just that some people are trying to take the focus away from the series, good luck to them,” he said.
Earlier in the day, ICC Dave Richardson, addressing the media in Adelaide, vaguely hinted that they might discuss the ambiguity related to the law. “This will continue to be reported and the ICC confirms that unless the Laws are changed, the current practice of charging players when the evidence shows an obvious breach will continue. ICC Umpires will remind all teams of the Laws as they stand. In light of this incident and of other comments being made by players around the world, I think it’s fair to say it should be discussed by the cricket committee going forward,” he stated.
At the same time, he emphasised that they will punish the offenders only if they gather clinching evidence. “We’ve taken the approach that we will only really charge someone if it’s obviously being done for that particular purpose. There’s two examples in the past. One was Rahul Dravid where he actually took the sweet and rubbed it on the ball, you probably couldn’t get more obvious than that. And in our opinion this (Du Plessis) instance,” he said.
The former Indian skipper was docked 50 per cent of his match fees when he was caught by the TV cameras rubbing a cough lozenge on the shiny side of the white ball.
There wasn’t much of a fuss about that incident. But the pace at which the entire episode is evolving, it’s shaping up to be a players vs ICC showdown. Seems like the mint-gate scandal won’t easily be chewed over.
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