Lungani Zama looks at the ball tampering fiasco involving Proteas fast bowler Vernon Philander. Photo by: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

For the sake of their legacy, the Proteas will have to do more than just wish away the mounting allegations of their team using creative means to get the ball to dance on lifeless pitches.

For the sake of their integrity, individual and collective, they must act because the label of “cheat” is one that never ever leaves you in sport.

Ask Ben Johnson, or Luis Saurez, or Diego Maradona.

At some point, someone will turn around and say: “Ah, yes, aren’t you the guy that couldn’t play fair, so you enhanced yourself, or bit someone, or used your hand in a game of football?”

The stain on your character will never completely disappear, no matter how furiously you scrub away at it.

For the Proteas, this current situation is compounded by the fact that this isn’t a first offence.

They got uncomfortably close previously, which they furiously refuted, having a full go at officials and the opposition for daring to question their integrity.

That word – integrity – that priceless commodity in life and sport, is essential now. It is essential because these allegations, if left open to public speculation and subsequent persecution by social media, will see some of the most storied careers in the modern game viewed in a less bright light.

Dale Steyn’s sensational spell ought to have hogged yesterday’s and today’s headlines. The brilliance of his afternoon burst was a sight to behold, yet eyebrows were raised and back-pages tampered with when Vernon’s philandering was told.

Steyn’s new-ball partner may have been the one who was fingered, but the ball is not his to play with alone.

Cricket is a team game and, as such, individuals can be painted with the same brush.

Steyn is quite rightly being compared favourably to such luminaries as Dennis Lillee, Kapil Dev and Imran Khan.

These are giants of the game, legends whose feats and fanfare will last the test of time.

And when you are in that elevated company, chasing and indeed haring past history’s finest, you cannot have a shred of doubt about your legitimacy.

That is why the Proteas camp must act decisively on this episode. If they strongly believe that Vernon Philander’s only crime was to innocently clean the ball at an inopportune time, then stand firm by that.

Demand that this supposedly damning footage is aired, to clear his name properly.

These things have a funny way of coming out eventually anyway, as anyone caught in a high-profile scandal will attest.

Somewhere in between Galle and the offices of the ICC in Dubai, someone may feel it’s in the public interest to ‘leak’ this mysterious clip at some point. Defend him to the hilt, because you are not only batting for his good person, but the integrity of a team brimming with role models that reach across all barriers.

There is a consensus that ball-tampering is widely practiced in the sport.

Heck, some even call it an art form, like simulation in football. But let’s be clear on this; ball-tampering is not frowned upon, like diving.

It is illegal, and sadly points to a lack of belief that your natural skills alone will be able to get the job done.

To the neutral eye, these increasingly regular trips to the headmaster’s office can’t all be co-incidental. Eventually, they start to point at a bad apple.

If the Proteas know, deep down in the gallows of their conscience, that Philander’s actions were mischievous, perhaps they ought to seriously consider putting their hands up and saying; sorry, that was wrong.

It would take serious balls to do that, but at least there would be no suspicion that those had been tampered with.

Zama is in Sri Lanka with the Proteas covering the tour for Independent News & Media - Sunday Independent