Another charge of cheating in cricket

The second Test match between the West Indies and Sri Lanka that ended yesterday in a draw saw another charge of ball tampering. Readers may recall the outrage in March following the discovery that three Australian players, including the captain, had tried to secretly use sandpaper to roughen up one side of the ball, a clear violation of the rules. All three received various punishments (see here and here and here). The charge this time is against the Sri Lankan cricket captain Dinesh Chandimal who was accused of eating a ‘sweet’ (which is what a piece of hard candy is called by us cricket playing former colonials) and then using the sticky saliva to rub on the ball and thus change its condition. He has denied the charge and there will now be an inquiry.

This short video explains why the issue in this case is not as clear-cut as with the use of sandpaper. If you cannot see the embedded video, go here.

As to the physics involved, what is incontrovertible is that changing the nature of the surface of the ball by roughing it up or shining it or some similar action will undoubtedly alter its motion in flight in some way. What is not clear is how much the flight will be changed, in what way, and whether it can be predicted and thus controlled, because the equations of fluid dynamics are enormously complicated to solve, especially for turbulent motion, and depend on many variables.

I do not buy the defense that the sweet is used to simply generate more ‘natural’ saliva (an allowed substance under the current rules) and not to produce ‘artificial’ sticky saliva (which is not allowed). It seems absurd to argue that the mouth of players becomes so dry that it cannot produce the tiny amount of saliva needed to rub on the ball. If that were the case, the player would be in danger of collapsing due to dehydration.

I would like the authorities to throw the book at Chandimal and, given the arbitrary nature of the distinction between natural and artificial saliva, also change the rules so that not even saliva of any kind can be used to polish the ball, thus removing a temptation for players to indulge in this type of gamesmanship. The only thing that should be allowed is to polish the ball on one’s clothes. But given the desire of players to win at all costs, will they then start having pieces of sandpaper surreptitiously sewn on their clothes?

Even if Chandimal is cleared, I am frankly sick and tired of these antics. Not only are they unsportsmanlike, they are also stupid. These matches are covered by about 20 TV cameras, at least one of which is always following the ball and whoever is handling it. How players can think they will not be discovered beats me. I am definitely old school and feel that players should not only not break the rules, they should not even come close to looking as if they might be.


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