Faf du Plessis’ appeal against his ICC conviction of ball-tampering has been rejected by judicial commissioner Michael Beloff. The newly confirmed South African Test captain remained guilty of breaching Law 42.3 and the sanction initially imposed on him by match referee Andy Pycroft – 100% of his match fee from the Hobart Test and three demerit points – stood. Du Plessis escaped the more serious sanction of a match ban.
Du Plessis was originally found guilty of altering the condition of the ball on November 22, during South Africa’s tour of Australia, after video footage revealed he used his saliva to shine it while also sucking on a mint. He announced his intention to appeal immediately.
The hearing was held on Monday in Dubai, with du Plessis participating via video link. It lasted two-and-a-half hours and Beloff, chair of the ICC’s Code of Conduct commission, reserved judgement until Wednesday afternoon.
In a 14-page judgement, which outlined the arguments made by du Plessis’s legal counsel and the ICC, Beloff found that du Plessis had “applied the substance to the match ball and did so intentionally” and he “endorsed” the guilty verdict. Beloff found no need to alter the sanction. He took into consideration du Plessis’ 14 years of experience as a first-class cricketer, that he was a role model and that he had already suffered damage to his reputation when considering whether to amend the punishment.
Beloff did not buy the argument that there was uncertainty over the ball-tampering law itself. CSA had asked the ICC to clarify the words “artificial substance” and several South African players pointed out that they take the field with various things – from energy drinks to biltong – in their mouths and would therefore be applying residue from that to the ball throughout the match.
Although Beloff acknowledged that the law itself does not define the word artificial, he cited a dictionary definition of it, which du Plessis accepted. “As to what is an artificial substance, neither Code, Law nor Guidance define it. The adjective ‘artificial’ is ordinarily used as the opposite of natural. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally’ which the Appellant was prepared to accept. There is nothing in the regulatory context to require, in my view, any alternative or different definition.”
Beloff concluded du Plessis had applied an artificial substance to the ball because his saliva had come into contact with a mint. “The saliva/mint or the combination thereof was an ‘artificial substance’ (although the saliva per se is not). If the drinking of gin is prohibited it is not a defence to say that it was mixed with tonic.”
Beloff also did not distinguish between ball-shining and ball-tampering, as du Plessis had suggested, and ruled any artificial substance applied to the ball changed its condition. Since du Plessis did so “intentionally”, he was found guilty.
“The consequence of his [du Plessis’s] action was to alter the condition of the ball (or was likely to do) in the relevant sense, that is to say, it altered the status quo ante of the match ball (i.e. its condition prior to the polishing). Whether that can be described as maintenance (i.e. restoring the ball to its pristine condition) or enhancement, (i.e. improving its condition from what it was prior to shining), matters not,” Beloff wrote.
The ICC welcomed the decision after CEO David Richardson earlier expressed his “disappointment” that du Plessis had decided to appeal. Richardson laid the initial charge against du Plessis when video evidence emerged after the window for the umpires to report any wrongdoing had passed.
“It is the duty of the ICC to ensure fair play on the cricket field,” Richardson said. “Although it was not picked up by the umpires at the time, when the incident came to our attention subsequently, we felt it was our responsibility to lay a charge in this case because the ICC can’t let such an obvious breach of this Law pass without taking any action. We are pleased that both the Match Referee and Mr Beloff QC have agreed with our interpretation of the Laws and hope that this serves as a deterrent to all players not to engage in this sort of unfair practice in the future.”
Richardson was open to a discussion on whether more guidelines were necessary to define ball-tampering but stressed the law was clear in its current form. “It goes without saying that we will be reviewing the outcome to determine if any additional guidelines are needed to provide further clarity to the players and umpires around this type of offence. However we are satisfied that the Law is clear and is implemented consistently.”
The outcome has left Du Plessis one demerit point away from missing a match. Any Level 2 offence – ranging from dissent to public criticism of a match-related incident – could lead to him facing suspension.
Despite CSA’s vocal backing of du Plessis, they accepted Beloff’s ruling even as they continued to call for a review of the laws.
“We are satisfied with the matter being given due consideration by a person independent of the ICC. Both CSA and Faf believed that this appeal was imperative considering the important principles at stake. In our view, the fact that Mr Beloff deliberated for some time after hearing complex legal arguments from both sides demonstrates that this matter does indeed require further consideration and clarification from the ICC and the MCC,” Haroon Lorgat, CSA chief executive said.
“Notwithstanding the outcome of the appeal and Mr Beloff’s helpful rulings on the matter, we hope that further reviews of the Code of Conduct and the laws of the game takes place as players will no doubt continue to seek clarification as to what is or is not permissible in the light of this case.” (ESPNcricinfo)
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent