Cricket: ICC to keep an eye on the ball

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CRICKET'S ball-doctoring debate moved on (albeit barely) with a statement from the game's governing body yesterday that was considerably closer to a medium- paced long hop than a fast inswinging yorker. The International Cricket Council, potential offenders will be petrified to hear, take a dim view of it.

The ICC's chairman, Sir Colin Cowdrey, who had maintained a deafening silence in the seven weeks since Pakistan were accused of cheating during this summer's international series, said that the ICC was 'concerned' about ball-tampering, and considered it 'totally unacceptable'.

The same ICC concern was presumably present when umpires Ken Palmer and John Hampshire changed the match ball during the fourth Texaco Trophy game at Lord's on 22 August, when the incident was swiftly buried underneath one of their office carpets.

In failing to state at the time whether the ball was changed under the 'unfair play' clause in the laws, as indicated by a Lord's official who was present during the meeting between Pakistani officials and the match referee, or because of natural wear and tear, as the tourists themselves insist, Pakistan have been adjudged guilty by inference.

Cowdrey has been under pressure ever since to clear up that specific incident, but yesterday's statement merely offered the promise of action against any offence discovered in the future. As the ICC traditionally keeps its teeth in a bedside glass, batsmen around the world may not feel inclined to throw a party.

'Umpires value the support of match referees,' Cowdrey said (despite the fact that all the evidence points to their dismay at the lack of it), 'and they are concerned about the fears that ball tampering is increasing throughout the cricket world. This practice is totally unacceptable, and captains and cricket managers are required to stamp it out immediately. The match referee will be directed to take a strong line with those who shirk this responsibility, and Test umpires will be instructed to be as vigilant as possible and to have no compunction whatsoever in changing a ball at the first sign of interference.

'Whether there should be a more punitive sanction will be a subject for discussion at the ICC meeting planned for January 1993.'

Surrey, given a pounds 1,000 suspended fine by the Test and County Cricket Board last month for ball-doctoring, expect to announce the findings of their internal inquiry on Monday. Alec Stewart, the England vice-captain, was among four people interviewed yesterday by the three-man committee.

Botham the giving soul, page 48