A cheat storm blew up yesterday in Colombo. If it was partly manufactured in the wake of a routine win for England, it was based on solid evidence and shed some light on scruples in modern sport.
It hinged on an incident in the 35th over of the Sri Lanka Board XI's second innings, when the tour match was all but done on Saturday afternoon. At 63 for 7, still 71 behind England, the middle-order batsman Dilruwan Perera edged the fast bowler Jimmy Anderson to first slip, where the tourists' captain, Andrew Strauss, moved forward and pouched what seemed a clear and straightforward catch.
England barely appealed because it was so apparent. Perera, however, stood his ground and neither of the umpires was willing to raise the finger. Nor were they of a mind to take the word of the England captain.
Soon enough, Perera inside-edged Steve Finn behind and was on his way but the damage had been done. It was a tiny incident in an inconsequential match, which England won by an innings and 15 runs, but it annoyed the visitors and it has the potential to set the tone for the tour, though it is not yet far up the Beaufort Scale.
Graeme Swann, who was standing alongside Strauss at second slip, said yesterday: "It was very difficult to take because it was so blatantly out. I'm just glad I live in an age where DRS is in place. The thing that annoyed the players on the field, and annoyed me, was that the umpire was unsighted but the batsman stood there knowing 100 per cent that he was out and chose to cheat, in my view.
"I think he then opened himself up to the level of abuse that was coming to him. To be honest, I'm glad Straussy was there because I'm sure it would have gone further than that had we not had someone with a bit of intelligence and nous to calm things down.
"It was just cheating in my view, but we live in an age where cheating is accepted in Test cricket. If people don't walk and think they can get away with it, nobody seems to say anything. But I don't agree with that."
The next time Swann feathers one through to the keeper with the umpire uncertain and unsighted he had better turn and walk off pronto even if the Ashes themselves depend on it. But his stern tone was forgivable. Perera, who has played four one-day internationals, cannot have harboured many doubts that Strauss had caught the ball and the word of the England captain should have been sufficient, particularly given the position of the game.
Strauss made his displeasure known to the umpire in polite terms but it was typical that it was he who ensured England were not distracted for long. The oppressive heat in these parts can only have magnified their bad mood but it is vital they do not waste energy on displaying their disappointment.
The Decision Review System is being used in the two-match Test series between England and Sri Lanka which begins next week, which should preclude similar occurrences. But Swann is not minded to back players who base their continued crease occupation on technology.
"Let's face it, it is against the spirit of the game," he said. "If you know you are out, then you walk off the field. And it doesn't just go for nicks, it goes for bat-pad catches, people who get stumped and try to ask whether the keeper took the bails off cleanly. Unfortunately, this is an ideal world I'm talking about." In the next three weeks England had better behave with the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and be Honest John to boot.
Colombo (Third day of three): England XI beat Sri Lanka Board XI by an innings and 15 runs
Sri Lanka Board XI won toss
SRI LANKA BOARD XI – First Innings 169 (W A A M Silva 66, Panesar 5-37, Anderson 4-19)
ENGLAND XI – First Innings Overnight 303-8 dec. (Cook 163no)
SRI LANKA BOARD XI – Second Innings
W A A M Silva c Bopara b Anderson 0
3 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
F D M Karunaratne b Swann 31
71 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
P B B Rajapaksa c Swann b Finn 9
21 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
A R S Silva c Strauss b Anderson 12
81 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
*†H A P W Jayawardene c Anderson b Finn 0
6 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
S P S C Serasinghe c Cook b Swann 5
9 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
M D K Perera c Prior b Finn 6
36 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
K G Alvitigala c Prior b Swann 0
4 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
H M C M Bandara not out 28
70 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
T P Gamage lbw b Panesar 19
38 balls 0 sixes 4 fours
W G H N Premaratne lbw b Anderson 0
1 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Extras (lb9) 9
Total (for 10, 56.4 overs) 119
Fall: 1-0, 2-25, 3-51, 4-51, 5-62, 6-62, 7-63, 8-79, 9-118.
Bowling: J M Anderson 11.4-5-21-3, S T Finn 13-5-24-3, M S Panesar 18-8-32-1, G P Swann 14-5-33-3.
Umpires: R A Kottahachchi and R R Wimalasiri.