Here come the Candymen!! by Abdul Habib 9th September 2006 Why is the issue of ball tampering such a cantankerous subject? What about players not walking when they edge the ball or claiming bumped catches or using aluminium and graphite bats? Surely all of those things are also against the spirit of cricket? Yet they never seem to illicit the same level of intense indignation that surrounds ball tampering. What exactly is ball tampering? According to the laws of cricket, ball tampering is the act of changing the condition of the ball in a manner outside those methods that have been legislated for. This means that a person may shine the ball provided no artificial substance is used, they may remove dirt under the supervision of the umpire and they may dry a wet ball with a towel. Any other act will be deemed to amount to ball tampering. But why all the fuss about ball tampering? Is it some new phenomenon never before seen or heard of in the 129-year history of cricket or is it something that has been part and parcel of the game since time immemorial? If we’re to believe the words of some of the best bowlers of all-time like Holding, Imran and Hadlee. Then it would seem that every bowler tampers with the ball and any bowler who claims he doesn’t is a liar, these greats of the game state that ball tampering is rife at all levels of cricket. In fact it’s so widespread that many cricket experts and former players even advocate legalising it in some form or another. Perhaps the most contentious issue is the application of the ball tampering laws, let’s turn our attention to a glaring double standard that exists today. Officially it’s illegal to use any artificial substance to polish or coat the ball in order to prolong the shine or to degrade it. In fact it’s specifically stated as being illegal in Law 42.3(a)(i). Yet it’s an open secret of the ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ variety that the England team as well as many County teams are using ‘loaded saliva’ to polish the ball. Saliva loaded with what you say? According to former England bowler Angus Fraser and Australian bowler Nathan Bracken (amongst many others) there is a chronic case of sweet tooth going around the England camp. There’s a widespread use of sweets to ‘load’ a player’s saliva creating an unnatural ‘saliva varnish’ with which to coat a cricket ball helping it to swing unnaturally. The effectiveness of this new brand of ball tampering was evident during England’s Ashes triumph in the summer of 2005, when the ball began reverse swinging within the first 20 overs! Even the kings of reverse swing Waqar and Wasim would struggle to get the ball going the other way before the 40th over, yet here the England team was reversing the ball before it had even lost it’s conventional swing! If Pakistani’s reverse swinging a 53 over old ball at the Oval created such a furore then imagine the finger wagging, raised eyebrows and Hair tantrums if they had been reversing it at around the 20th over! Yet when the English players make the ball do impossible things it becomes a ‘skill’ and it’s openly ‘celebrated’ with replay after replay. In fact Simon Jones brazen response to Bracken’s ball tampering accusation directed at England wasn’t to deny it but to respond with the words ‘Are you telling me that they (Australia) haven't done it?’ Where is the ICC? Has the otherwise opinionated Speed suddenly fallen mute? Aren’t the umpires listening? What, if anything, has or will be done about this blatant skulduggery? Skulduggery you ask? Isn’t that a bit harsh? It’s only a few mints after all, where’s the problem in that? The problem lies less in the action itself but more in the premeditation of that action. When a decadent cascade of candy gushed forth from one of Marcus Trescothick’s pockets during a test match, the reaction was more of the ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ variety than the indignation which is usually associated with ball tampering. But why? Surely this is far more serious than a bowler like Waqar or Shoaib ‘working the ball’ because as bowlers they do it to accelerate the introduction of reverse swing thereby directly affecting their own performance. Trescothick’s on-field candy store is part of a team strategy to artificially alter the condition of the ball. It’s a premeditated conspiracy amongst the England team and it’s strategists! Yet despite the use of sweets to ‘load saliva’ being an open secret, the ICC is doing nothing about it! Hypocrisy? Most definitely! Which brings me to yet another double standard evident in the application of the ‘ball tampering laws’ as they stand today. Why is there no distinction between a bowler ‘working the ball’ and a batsman ‘working the ball?’ In the bowler’s case (Waqar, Shoaib) it could be argued that he was acting alone without the knowledge of his team and captain but the same can’t be said for batsmen who ‘work on the ball.’ Now batsmen like Atherton, Dravid, Trescothick or Sachin aren’t going to benefit from reverse swing so why were they changing the condition of the ball? It can’t have been a decision made independently of the bowler because ‘working on the ball’ is a very refined skill and by doing the wrong sort of damage to the ball, they could make it ineffective for even the most capable of bowlers. So it would seem a logical deduction that the bowlers would be aware of the sort of damage being done to the ball by these batsmen. If that’s true then it becomes far more serious than just a simple case of mere ball tampering. It means that there was collusion between two or more members of the same team to tamper with the ball. This means that there was some level of premeditation to their actions and it should be treated as proof of a predetermined team strategy to cheat. If a bowler ‘works the ball’ to benefit himself then you should punish the bowler but if a batsman ‘works the ball’ to benefit his team, then surely that’s a far more serious offence and requires a joint punishment for the entire team? The ‘sweet-tooth’ and ‘batsmen working the ball’ strategies appear to point towards some level of collusion between two or more members of the same team yet the ICC refuses to act in either instance! Surely such blatant and obvious double standards do more to bring the game into disrepute than any other action. When one team is nailed to the wall without any evidence for one form of tampering but another team is lauded for a different form of tampering, then what confidence can anyone really have in the impartiality and fairness of the ICC? It begs the question of whether the ‘saliva varnish’ situation would have been ignored if it had been the Pakistan team who came up with it! We hear a lot of nonsense about the ‘spirit of cricket’ superseding everything else but what good does ignoring the open secret of the use of ‘saliva varnish’ do for the concept of the ‘spirit of cricket?’ And why are an International team allowed to play the game with an obvious pre-planned strategy of using sweets to change the condition of the ball, it seems that acting within the ‘spirit of cricket’ doesn’t apply equally across the board!