Saturday, 26 February 2011

Unforgivable Sin or a Bowler's Weapon? : Ball Tampering

It’s probably one of the worst kept secrets in cricket that ball-tampering is a common practice. From small-time club cricketers to the International arena, it happens all the time. Many high profile names have admitted to have ‘altered’ the ball in one way or another. Firstly let’s look at the cricketing law, in regards of, Ball Tampering.

Under Law 42, subsection 3 of the Laws of Cricket, the ball may be polished without the use of an artificial substance, may be dried with a towel if it is wet, and have mud removed from it under supervision; all other actions which alter the condition of the ball are illegal. These are usually taken to include rubbing the ball on the ground, scuffing with a fingernail or other sharp object, or tampering with the seam of the ball.

So under this Law, most actions to shine a cricket bowl to gain swing movement is outlawed; but a legal way is the usage of spit or sweat. The moisture of using spit/sweat, on one side of the ball, will make the ball heavier and therefore swing. The most common practice of polishing is rubbing the ball on the trousers. This is the legal way but takes effort and time, and on a dead pitch, might not give a desired result. This is where, the feilding team result to ‘illegal’ means to get assistance to get wickets. The most common practices are a fielder may apply a substance, such as lip balm or sweetened saliva, to shine one side of the ball or pick the seam of the ball to encourage more swing, or else one side of the ball can be roughened by use of boot spikes or other sharp objects. Former England Captain Tony Greig, has openly stated that "Some may choose to deny it but most bowlers have technically indulged in ball-tampering. Ball-tampering is one of cricket's most open secrets and it has been for at least 50 years." So now let’s look at some examples of when a player/team has been accused of Tampering with a cricket ball.

In Pakistan’s tour of England in 1992, the two W’s, Wasim and Waqar, were accused of altering the ball in a illegal manner. This was a result of reverse swing (very common in today’s game) that they were getting. Nothing was proved, and in 1996, Imran Khan won a libel case against Ian Botham in terms of these allegations. England Captain Michael Atherton, was caught on camera, applying a substance that had been hidden in his trousers to gain swing for his bowlers. He was fined. India's Rahul Dravid was fined after he rubbed a half-eaten lolly onto one side of the ball during an ODI. Such instances of using sweetened saliva are not uncommon, as many players claim that the sugary saliva caused by eating confectionery is more effective in polishing the ball than normal saliva. Marcus Trescothick claimed in his autobiography that England's players achieved their prodigious amounts of reverse swing in their successful 2005 Ashes series against Australia by using saliva sweetened by eating mints.

The biggest story was perhaps in 2006, when Australian umpire, Darrell Hair, accused Pakistan of Tampering and gave 5 penalty runs, Pakistan Captain, Inzamam-Ul-Haq refused to play after tea and the match was awarded to England. Other incidents include England opening bowlers accused of using their spikes and Indian great Sachin Tendulkar, suspended for apparently picking the seam.

In 2010 Pakistan limited overs captain, Shahid Afridi, was caught by the camera’s of biting the cricket ball in a bizarre attempt to readjust the seam of the ball. The ball was eventually replaced. Afridi, duly apologized and was suspending for two games. Interestingly, Michael Atherton declared “Shahid Afridi did nothing worse last week than 99% of professional cricketers have been guilty of doing at some stage of their careers. His mistake was to get caught. Every cricket team I played in discussed, at some stage, how to scuff up a pitch on a spinner's length”. Another comment from a former Indian Test cricketer, turned writer, Akash Chopra said “I have realised that ball-tampering does not happen randomly. It is more often than not part of the game plan ". He added "Some do it discreetly, while the rest, like Afridi, are either brave or foolish enough to do it blatantly”.

There has been many other former player/pundits whom have openly talked about Tampering. Imran Khan admitted to have used a bottle cap in a club game. Whereas Former England Captains Nasser Hussain and Micheal Vaughan, respectively said after the Anderson and Broad incident said ""Stuart Broad and James Anderson were wrong to behave in the manner they did and I've no doubt that if a player from another country did the same we'd have said they were cheating”, and “What would we have said if it was Pakistan?”.

The major problem is the game has turned into a batsman’s paradise, the pitches are flat, the ball gets changed after 34 overs in a ODI, The bowler is allowed to bowl one bouncer in a over and many others. Why is it when a bowler reverses the bowl it raises eye brows but a batsman is allowed to play the switch hit? Common let’s face it, you may as well use bowling machines as they would be just as effective.

Shoaib Akhtar in his autobiography, named Controversially Yours, openly admitted to have tampered with a Cricket ball in his career and also suggested that players from all around the world do it. He also suggested the legalisation of such practise.

The calls to legalise ball tampering has started to take shape with high profile cricketers such as Ian Chappell and Alan Donald in support. In fact, Donald made a remark when asked if he thought ball tampering should be legalised,"The ICC would shoot me for saying it but, with the wickets that we play on and the dying breed fast bowlers are becoming on these flatter wickets, I would say we do need some sort of defence mechanism, something to fall back on to say 'Right, we can do this. We can now prepare this ball to go”. Harsha Bhogle probably made the best when he said "Cricket allows you to "maintain" the state of the ball but not to "alter" it. You can therefore rub the ball on your flannels to ensure the shine stays longer, but you cannot rub it on the ground, for... example, to ensure it goes faster. But in either case you are altering the natural condition of the ball. By maintaining the shine a bowler prevents the ball from deterioration. And yet the worsening of the ball, and the ensuing implications, are at the very heart of our game. Either action seeks to make the two halves of the ball unequal, so why should one be allowed and the other outlawed? Is it because one helps conventional swing and the other encourages reverse swing, which has always been looked upon as the naughty child in the family? Or, let's face it, is it because batsmen don't like reverse swing? “
Tampering has been prevalent for an age now. It is indeed something that is taboo in 'conventional' circles, and yet practiced. It is a secret weapon of a bowler, that is often seen as an 'unfair' means of doing so. It is done by bowlers, but depending on rather biased and uneven discrimination, set by the governance itself, it rarely is brought into limelight. Newspapers also play an integral part in 'making' an issue out of nothing, as observed after the 5th ODI Vs. England in summer of 2010.
Many notable cricket gurus, and analysts have indeed said that tampering is almost impossible to track in many cases. The number of cases that have received highlight, are either based on the back of a backdrop of ridicule and controversy, humiliating series for the accusing party or the referral by officials of the match. The standard set as per laws are not enough to make sure that this practice either stops, or is regulated. On-field umpires, also at times, are taken over by biased intentions (case in point, The Oval Test of 2006) or just plain 'evidence'. It is notable though that many fast bowlers call for the legalization of tampering, as the conditions are becoming more and more suitable for batsman. Placid tracks also play a role in tampering. But one must also keep note of the thin line between its legalization and misuse.

Why should the batsman have it all their way and bowlers have to suffer? How about evening it up a touch? How about allowing the fielding team to alter the bowl? I am not saying let them use bottle caps and spikes but the use of some dirt or sun cream will allow a bowler to compete. Or otherwise bowlers and fielders will carry on in indulging in illegal means to get wickets.

1 comment:

  1. Sabah: i did not know about what exactly is legal and illegal in terms of tampering the ball...i got to know about it after the Pak players were accused recently and one more thing i would like to point out, i have noticed that when its the Pak players, media seems to expose this more than when it is other players. Be it any media. Like ur article, very unbiased and good info!