Since 2006, seven cricketers have been penalised for ball tampering, but none as harsh as the three Aussies —all of whom confessed.
In Chennai, you can ride your bike in the neighbourhood, feel the wind in your hair and keep the cloying humidity out of your scalp; a cop will stop you for breaking the law, but when you smile sweetly and ask nicely, he will let you go.
In Delhi, you can drive home from work late at night, sipping from a can of cold, strong beer, and when the policeman pulls you up, tell him how you’re stuck between a prissy boss and a bossy spouse, and he will empathise and let you go.
In Bangalore, you might drive up a one-way street on a Sunday, and an inspector will halt you. Plead that you have half a litre in your tank and can’t take the right way, and you will be sent along with a wave.
In Mumbai, you can be out looking for a quarter of Old Monk, or a herbal smoke, at three in the morning, when the local khaki lord stands in your way. Tell him where you got your contraband, and he will make sure you get home safe.
All these are crimes, or infractions at the very least. But, depending on where you live, and what you do, you will know which crimes are considered not really crimes, by the people who enforce the law.
In the West, where drinking and driving is a complete no-no, driving a little faster than the speed limit is considered acceptable. This in countries where speed traps are ubiquitous and the probability of being caught is matched by the severity of punishment.
Cricket does not operate in a vacuum, and there is a good reason why ball tampering is barely considered wrong. For one, every single team does it. For another, it is almost impossible to be caught doing the crime, charged and then censured, without the involvement of an outside party: The broadcasters.
Without video evidence of ball tampering — and most major cricket matches have 30-plus high definition cameras focussed on the field of play at all times — all it takes is for a player to deny wrongdoing, and even if the umpires — some of whom would have resorted to the same tricks at lower levels of the game — know that the ball has been diddled, there is little they can do about it.
Sandpapergate, which resulted in Cricket Australia banning its captain, Steve Smith, for a year, its star batsman, David Warner, for as much, and Cameron Bancroft, the one who did the physical alteration, for nine months, brought the issue to the fore.
But, just as these three were made examples of for admitting to conspire to do something, rather than the act itself, there are scores of cricketers who commit, on a daily basis, various acts of ball tampering that go unnoticed or unchecked.
Sample the evidence: Since 2006, there have been seven cases of cricketers being penalised for ball-tampering, including the latest — Sri Lanka’s Dinesh Chandimal against the West Indies. In every single case, video evidence has won the day, and in every instance it has been a player from the visiting team in a bi-lateral series.
In cricket there is always a host broadcaster in a bi-lateral series. And, typically, these broadcast rights are sold for such exorbitant prices that breaking even is difficult.
Hypothetically — and there is no reason to believe he has or would ever do such a thing — if Virat Kohli was working the ball in the first Test of a five-Test series, would it be in the best interests of the host broadcaster to put that evidence out? How much of a difference would it make to the top-line if Kohli was playing every game of that series rather than serving a suspension? And, think of the freelance cameraman, the line-editor, the producer of the broadcast, isn’t this a decision well above their pay grade?
The International Cricket Council has a long history of not paying for the technology it uses to adjudicate in-game decisions. From the stationary cameras that help the third umpire adjudicate run outs and stumpings, to the ball-tracking, edge-recognition and other aids, the ICC leaves this all to the broadcaster, at their cost.
Which is perhaps why only one instance of ball tampering has ever come up in an ICC tournament, way back in 2013, and even then the umpires merely changed the ball giving no reason, did not impose the five-run penalty or accuse someone of wrongdoing, because they may never have got the footage to back them up.
Over the years, cricketers have done different things to gain an advantage while painting outside the lines. In the Ranji Trophy, you will hear about a team that bowled first and later cropped the outfield really close, in the dark of night, when they were going to bat next, in an attempt to allow the fours to flow.
In league cricket, you will know someone who kept the balls in a freezer all night, so as to constrict the seam and keep the leather hard. In school cricket, you will know a coach who had such a good liquid dinner with an umpire that his ragged off-spinner would bowl from one end and never come under any scrutiny.
Cricket loves outrage, and because there is little chance of coming down hardest on the worst crimes, the system spends its time convicting the weakest: Those who confess, those failed by the system, and those who are more sinned against than sinning.
Anand Vasu is a freelance journalist. He tweets @anandvasu