Gros-Islet (Saint Lucia) (AFP) – Sri Lanka agreed to keep playing the second Test against West Indies on Saturday “under protest” after getting caught up in a potential ball-tampering controversy.
Play only resumed after a two-hour delay when the Sri Lankans, led by captain Dinesh Chandimal, had refused to take the field following a decision by umpires Aleem Dar and Ian Gould to charge the tourists with altering the state of the ball during the latter stages of the second day’s play.
They were assessed five penalty runs although that relatively minor punishment was inconsequential compared to the Sri Lankans’ obvious anger at being accused of what amounts to cheating.
Animated discussions ensued involving match referee Javagal Srinath and the Sri Lankan pair of coach Chandika Hathurusingha and team manager Asanka Gurusinha.
It appeared for some time that the day’s play at least — and possibly the rest of the match — might be in doubt.
However it was after these deliberations that the Sri Lankans agreed to the change of ball and to continue playing.
But after initially appearing to be prepared to resume the match, the Sri Lankan cricketers hesitated even as they were making their way out to the middle, resulting in further discussions before they were finally persuaded to get the day’s play underway two hours later than scheduled.
In a statement, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) solidly backed their players.
“The team management has informed us that Sri Lankan players have not engaged in any wrongdoing,” said SLC.
It was communication with the board in Colombo which finally persuaded Chandimal and his team to continue with the match.
“SLC advised the team to take the field to ensure the continuity of the match and wish to commend the decision taken by the team ‘under protest’ to ensure the upholding of the spirit of the game,” added the statement.
For their part, the sport’s governing body, the International Cricket Council, reserved the right to take punitive action based on what transpired when the Sri Lankans were expected to have taken the field at the start of the day.
“If there are any, Code of Conduct charges will follow as per usual at close of play,” tweeted the ICC.
When play eventually resumed, the West Indies progressed from their overnight position of 118 for two, in reply to Sri Lanka’s first innings of 253, without too many alarms until Suranga Lakmal produced an excellent delivery to have Shai Hope caught by Dhananjaya de Silva at slip for 19.
By tea, the home side had reached 241-5.
Opening batsman Devon Smith anchored the innings with a painstaking 61 but it was the fifth-wicket pair of Roston Chase and Shane Dowrich whose stand of 78 runs wrested the initiative from the Sri Lankans.
Fresh from a match-winning hundred in the first Test in Trinidad, wicketkeeper-batsman Dowrich reached the break on 44 in partnership with captain Jason Holder.
He lost the company of Chase in the final over the session as Sri Lanka struck immediately upon taking the second new ball when the all-rounder, on 41, flicked a full-length delivery to Suranga Lakmal at midwicket.
Smith’s was the other wicket to fall in the session, trapped lbw by spinner Akila Dananjaya after adding just one run to his score at lunch.
There is a precedent for a team refusing to take the field after a brush with the umpires.
The first and only time a match has been forfeited in the history of Test cricket was in 2006, after Pakistan were penalised five runs for ball tampering by umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove in the fourth Test against England at The Oval.
The Pakistanis did not return to the field after tea on the fourth day and the umpires deemed this to mean they had forfeited the match, even though Pakistan later said they were willing to play.
It was in March that Australia were caught tampering with the ball illegally on the third day of the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town.
Following their admissions of guilt and an investigation, Steve Smith and David Warner were stripped of the captaincy and vice-captaincy respectively and banned from playing international cricket for 12 months. Opening batsman Cameron Bancroft, the player caught on camera applying sandpaper to the ball, was banned for nine months.