How game was caught out tampering with the evidence

Derek Pringle finds `cheating' in the field a common practice
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What struck me was how small the place was. Court 13 may have been full of giants like Ian Botham and Imran Khan, and their respective counsel Charles Gray and George Carman, but from the witness box they seemed very small.

Having been subpoenaed by Imran's solicitors, I began by facing the gentle, medium pace of Mr Carman. No rough ride here, though the jury looked as if they had reached saturation point over cricket balls and the thousand and one ways to tamper with them.

Mr Carman was clearly never a cricketer. Although I had gone to court prepared to be bamboozled by ancient legal phrases such as qui omni dicit nihil excludit (He who says everything excludes nothing), his use of terms like "batten down the ball" had everyone flummoxed.

As he rested, Mr Gray came on to bowl a hostile spell from the Botham- Lamb end.

Where it not for the potentially huge costs involved, and the murkiness of its central tenet - what is and isn't considered cheating - the whole event could be trivialised and serialised into a soap opera.

Cheating is an emotive word in any sport, particularly in cricket, which is seen in certain quarters as a by-word for fair play. In professional cricket, though, what may be set down in the law has been systematically bent by players for generations. Which is why picking the seam and using lip-salve to preserve the ball's condition have long been accepted by both professional players and the umpires who watch over them - many of the latter former first-class players well versed in both practices.

What has upset this coterie of acceptance has been the intrusion of television and the Victorian-type moralising of sections of the media. In 1992, hysterical levels were reached over alleged malpractices by Pakistan's bowlers in achieving reverse swing, which in the hands of a skilled practitioner can blow away a batting order.

Like picking the seam, the sure-fire method of achieving reverse swing is a clear breach of Law 42, and yet its novelty has upset the accepted level of the old playing field to such an extent that even the most liberal of professional cricketers would probably consider it cheating - particularly if outside agents such as bottle tops are used to roughen one side of the ball.

Nobody likes to be labelled a cheat. But what should have been sorted out over a cup of tea has gone all the way to High Court 13. A number only the lawyers were certain to find lucky.