Nasa man called in over ball-tampering

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CRICKET'S ruling body has called in a scientist from Nasa, the American space agency, to help resolve the game's ball-tampering controversy.

Professor Rabi Mehta, an aerodynamics expert based at a Nasa research centre in Stanford, California, met officials at Lord's for four hours last week, discussing possible changes to cricket's laws.

During the First Test against South Africa at Lord's, Michael Atherton, the England captain, was filmed taking his hand out of his pocket and then rubbing the ball.

Atherton later admitted that he had dirt in his pocket but the match referee said the laws had not been broken.

Professor Mehta talked to Alan Smith, the Test and County Cricket Board's chief executive, and Ossie Wheatley, who is the chairman of the cricket committee.

He explained the scientific principles that would allow bowlers to make a cricket ball swing by altering its surface.

'It probably would be helpful to everyone to have the rules more tightly defined,' Mr Wheatley said after the meeting. 'You have to be very precise in how you frame the laws now because players go right up to the line.'

Professor Mehta - who used to open the bowling with Imran Khan for the Royal Grammar School in Worcester - gave a warning that bowlers have yet to learn fully how to exploit ball-tampering.

'There are more forms of ball-tampering than most bowlers dream of,' he said. 'Some of it is virtually undetectable.'

For example, a bowler can gain considerable advantage by sticking dirt or sawdust to one side of the ball - but the evidence of tampering would disappear as soon as the ball hit a bat or a wicket.

The present rules restrict alterations to the seam of the ball, but not to the rest of the surface.

'One could be more specific in saying scratching is not allowed,' Mr Wheatley said.

He added that, if ball-tampering spread, the balance of power in the game would shift decisively against batsmen, reducing scores and shortening matches. 'The governing bodies have to be absolutely clear. Five-day Test matches could become three-day Test matches.'

The Atherton affair is only the latest in several ball-tampering controversies that have hit cricket.

Several former professional players have admitted using objects such as bottle-tops to roughen the surface of the ball.

A guide to swing, page 19

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