Cricket: ICC keeps own counsel on ball 'irregularities'

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THE International Cricket Council yesterday closed the book on the Pakistani ball controversy. Faced with three possibilities, tell the truth, tell a lie, or say nothing, they opted - in time-honoured ICC fashion - to say nothing.

Thanks to the fact that the ICC chairman, Colin Cowdrey, had fortuitously taken himself off to India, the harassed occupant of the hot seat has been the secretary, Lt-Col John Stephenson, who issued a statement that was the equivalent of a prisoner of war offering nothing but his name, rank and serial number.

The statement, issued at noon, read: 'I have decided not to make any further statement concerning the change of ball during the lunch interval at Lord's on Sunday. Umpires reports are and always have been treated as strictly confidential and after careful consideration I have concluded that the same should apply to the match referee's report. The umpires' decision is final, therefore, so far as the ICC is concerned, the matter is closed.'

The Colonel then made sure that the matter remained closed, at least as far as he was concerned, by closing his office at Lord's for the Bank Holiday weekend and disappearing through the Grace Gates. He will be back behind his desk, a heavily sandbagged one no doubt, on Tuesday.

This matter, in the end, was deemed to be too politically sensitive not to join most of the other issues that now lie dormant under the ICC carpet. Pakistan have not been totally exonerated, in that many people will regard this as the equivalent of the Scottish verdict of 'not proven', but the considerable ramifications of finding them guilty have at least been avoided.

However, while it may be the end of the matter as far as the ICC is concerned, the tourists have no intention of letting it rest, and in the case of their two fast bowlers - at whom the fingernail has been most pointedly pointed - it is a case of see you in court.

Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis yesterday issued a joint statement saying that they believed that the ICC statement vindicated them, and that they would be consulting Queen's Counsel 'shortly' over certain articles and comments that they regard as defamatory.

They added: 'The campaign by certain sections of the press and international players' (ie. Allan Lamb) 'to smear our reputations by innuendo and untruths has been extremely damaging for us. We are to consult Queen's Counsel and expect proceedings to be issued thereafter.'

Lamb was yesterday advised to keep his own counsel on the subject for the time being, but the Pakistanis understandably take a more serious view of Lamb's ball-tampering allegations in a tabloid newspaper than Cowdrey, who has described them as 'cheeky.'

The ICC's prevarication while they tiptoed through what Colonel Stephenson described as a 'legal and political minefield' appears to have been partly due to a technicality in the procedure adopted by the umpires, Ken Palmer and John Hampshire, over the actual changing of the ball. They took their action after consultation with Deryck Murray, the match referee, Khalid Mahmood, the Pakistani tour manager, Intikhab Alam, the team manager, and Javed Miandad, the captain, and an official unattributable source informed the press that Law 42 (unfair play) had been invoked. It is also understood that the umpires informed the England dressing-room that the ball had been changed, and that they used the word 'tampering.'

However, it is believed that the umpires then made an error by replacing the original ball with one of 'similar quality' before the alleged offence, and did so under the laws of cricket. What they should have done is replaced it with one of 'much inferior quality' as demanded by the playing regulations for the tour, to which both teams put their signature.

Under the playing conditions, a ball shall only be replaced by one of 'similar quality' for accidental damage, and accidental damage is what the tourists have maintained ever since the incident. However, if the unattributable source is to be believed, Pakistan have escaped on a technicality. The swag was found on the premises, so to speak, but the search warrant was invalid.

The statement from Wasim and Waqar, who said that they had 'never cheated in any game' further claimed that 'at no time has any official in any capacity ever confronted us with an allegation of illegality.'

However, it is rare indeed for individuals to be singled out rather than teams, because of the difficulty of proving the matter. Short of appointing forensic scientists to international matches, and having the ball dusted down for fingerprints, it is nigh on impossible. Even though the ball was changed under Law 42 in an Under-19 Test at Grace Road, Leicester, last summer, and the England coach named an Australian fast bowler as the culprit, the umpires did not do so.

It might now be pertinent to reflect that this whole issue has grown out of all proportion to the alleged offence, largely because the ICC has again shown itself to be incapable of doing much other than wet its pants over a delicate issue.

If the umpires proceeded under the natural wear clause, there is no reason for the ICC not to say so. If it was the unfair play clause, there was equally no reason not to say so, in that an opinion held by two umpires does not necessarily preclude a not guilty verdict upon further investigation.

What is unarguably sad, is that relations between Pakistan and England, which in cricketing terms have never been far from the divorce courts, have once again plummeted during the course of what is laughingly described as only a game.

County reports, scoreboard, page 51

(Photograph omitted)