South Africa captain Faf du Plessis who has been found guilty of ball-tampering twice (UAE 2013 and Australia 2016) and been on the receiving end of it at least once (by Australia, in 2018) has called for the ICC to "apply harsher" punishments to those who are caught altering the condition of the ball.
Before du Plessis left to play Sri Lanka, who are reeling from their own captain Dinesh Chandimal's recent involvement in ball tampering, he was asked whether the ICC should change the regulations around the issue and and was decisive in his response. "They have to. It's happening too often. They definitely need to do that as quickly as possible," he said. "I know they met a while ago but it doesn't look like anything has changed. It's still the same rules and stuff, so they need to change that. The penalties needs to be harsher for ball tampering."
In fact, the ICC is set to approve stricter penalties for the offence imminently. Under the revised rules, ball tampering will be upgraded from a Level 2 offence to Level 3, meaning the maximum penalty for such a breach would increase from a ban of one Test or two ODIs to a ban of four Tests or eight ODIs.
Du Plessis, who did not seem aware of this, also called for clarity over what constitutes ball tampering, as he has done since he was found guilty after the Hobart Test in November 2016. Then, du Plessis was caught by television cameras with a mint in his mouth, applying mint-infused saliva to ball. He was found guilty of ball tampering, fined 100% of his match fee, appealed the charge and lost but escaped a ban. Since then, du Plessis has insisted the ICC must clarify what constitutes an "aritifical substance" as it relates to ball tampering, and he reiterated that on Sunday.
"I have probably said it too much but there are too many grey areas when it comes to the ICC and the rules. One, you want clarity and, two, you want consistency and that's definitely something that's not been part of that body of laws for a while now," du Plessis said. "There's a lot of captains that have been speaking about it for a lot of years so, hopefully, when they do bring in all these new things there will be a lot of clarity and, most importantly, consistency for all teams."
All that would indicate du Plessis is likely to sympathise with Chandimal, who also admitted to putting something in his mouth, though Chadimal could not remember whether it was a cough lozenge or an almond, and claimed he had no intention to tamper with the ball. Chandimal was suspended from Sri Lanka's third Test against West Indies for his misdemeanour, and now faces another sanction after also being charged with a Level 3 offence for conduct contrary to the spirit of the game.
Chandimal, Sri Lanka's coach Chandika Hathurusingha and manager Asanka Gurusinha have already pled guilty to the charge but will try to argue that the four-suspension-point penalty (which equates to two Tests) is too harsh. Their hearing is scheduled to take place on July 10, two days before the first Test against South Africa, and if they are unsuccessful, Sri Lanka will be without a captain and a coach for the series.
Du Plessis did not seem aware of the second, more serious charge, and was briefed about it by a CSA official before the press conference, but focused his attention on the difficulties his own team may face, rather than the troubles the opposition could have. "I am expecting tough conditions," he said. "I think Sri Lanka will look at it on paper and think we've got a better side on paper and I think they will try and make it as dry as possible and spin as much as possible."
South Africa have not played Tests in the subcontinent since their tour to India in late 2015, where they were defeated 3-0, losing an away series for the first time in nine years and also the No.1 Test ranking. That defeat resulted in South Africa's batsmen embarking on a careful dissection of their technique and du Plessis hopes they can show improvement on this tour. "It will be a nice opportunity to test ourselves in tough conditions. There were a lot of lessons learnt by us [in India]. You have to go through something like that to pick your game apart, start from scratch and look at how you get better."
Still, South Africa will travel to Sri Lanka without their best batsman of their successful summer, AB de Villiers, who has retired from the international game. Du Plessis played down de Villiers' departure and chose to see it as an opportunity for a younger player to make a name. "AB has only played the last one or two series for this Test team, so he has actually not been playing for a while," du Plessis said, referencing the almost two-year-long sabbatical de Villiers took between January 2016 and December 2017. "It will be a nice opportunity for Temba [Bavuma] or somebody else to put his peg in the ground and make the position his own again."
South Africa have opted for a squad with only four fast bowlers - and three specialist spinners - but du Plessis indicated they will trust their quicks to do most of the work. "No matter what the conditions are, a big strength of our team will always be our fast bowlers, especially the personnel we have; [Dale] Steyn, Kagiso [Rabada] and Vernon [Philander] are all wicket-taking bowlers. Those three have proven they can do it in any conditions. Dale has got a fantastic record in the subcontinent and KG [Rabada] is gold. He will be able to do anything, and we've got Keshav [Maharaj]," du Plessis said. "If we want to and there's an opportunity to, because the conditions are really bad, then we can look at a second spinner."
Tabraiz Shamsi and Shaun von Berg are the other two spinners South Africa have included, while Lungi Ngidi is their fourth pace option.