Cricket: Case against Pakistan dismissed

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AFTER the deluge of accusations levelled at Pakistan for ball-doctoring during their 2-1 series victory over England, the storm passed peacefully yesterday as those entrusted with passing final judgement submitted a resounding verdict of not guilty.

'We were beaten and we have no complaints,' the England manager, Micky Stewart, said. Clyde Walcott, the match referee assigned to oversee the decisive fifth Test at The Oval, also exonerated the Pakistani fast bowlers Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Having inspected the ball at the end of each innings as well as during every interval, he declared himself satisfied that there had been no subterfuge.

Hanif Mohammed, the former Pakistan captain, cited the reaction - or, rather, non-reaction - of the umpires, David Shepherd and Dickie Bird, as proof of innocence. 'The umpires were checking the ball all the time. They could have told the captains if there had been anything wrong. The fact that they did not must mean they were satisfied.'

Alan Smith, the Test and County Cricket Board chief executive, confirmed this. 'Our umpires, in whom we have the greatest confidence, have examined the ball frequently and at random. If they believed there was illegal tampering they had powers available to them. They did not exercise those powers.' As if to ram the point home, Wasim dismissed Robin Smith last Thursday with one that swung in and cut away late, moments after Bird had checked the ball. Throughout five Tests and two one-day internationals, moreover, not one umpire or referee has detected any evidence of malpractice.

The Surrey coach, Geoff Arnold, whose own expertise as a swing bowler earned him 115 wickets in 34 Tests between 1967 and 1975, is unstinting in his praise for Waqar, who took 113 wickets for Surrey last summer and is expected to return to The Oval next year, financial considerations permitting. 'Waqar is a phenomenon,' he said. 'He's the only bowler I can watch all day and expect to take a wicket with every ball. I've never seen a bowler like him. A yorker is a very difficult ball to bowl but he can deliver it all the time. If he carries on like this and stays fit he can break all the records.

'Because they don't have seaming pitches in Pakistan they work hard at swing bowling. We've noticed how well Waqar keeps the ball shiny on one side. Pakistanis work very much harder at that than we do. I'm always telling my bowlers not to just tickle it.'

The controversy surrounding the Pakistan bowling took a new turn yesterday morning when a series of X-rated photos found their way on to the nation's breakfast tables. There, in full gory colour, was Waqar apparently picking away at the seam of the ball with his fingernails.

Pictures, though, can be misleading. The condition of the seam exerts a far greater influence on how the ball moves off the wicket rather than in the air where movement may be caused by many factors: atmosphere, cloud formation, the way the bowler grips the ball, the way he applies shine. Besides, it would require the claws of an Edward Scissorhands to make much of an impression on today's rigidly stitched seams. 'My thumbnails are short,' Waqar said. 'There's no way I could have damaged the ball with them.'

The reason Waqar and Wasim have been able to wreak such havoc this summer, scattering Englishmen left, right and centre, can be traced to a perfectly legal gambit pioneered by one of their compatriots, Sarfraz Nawaz. He cleverly concluded that rubbing one side of the ball vigorously to obtain shine while soaking the other with a brow's worth of sweat created an imbalance, one that could be turned to mesmeric advantage.

'The trouble is that when you swing it as much as they do everyone else thinks 'Why can't we do the same?' ' Arnold added. 'People get jealous.'