Cricket: Is the law an ass? Cricket experts explain how a grey area should be redefined

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What the Laws say

Law 42.5: Any member of the fielding side may polish the ball providing that such polishing wastes no time and no artificial substance is used. No one shall rub the ball on the ground or use any artificial substance or take any other action to alter the condition of the ball.

Law 42 note (b): A wet ball may be dried on a towel or with sawdust.

David Frith

Editor Wisden Monthly

TOWELS and sawdust are permissable to dry one's fingers and the ball, but while the Law does not say that you can use soil, it doesn't say you can't do either. So here we've got decisions having to be made by assumption and therefore it is once again back to the drawing board. Nobody has ever objected to players openly and innocently wiping their fingers on the ground, which has been done for many years, so it was a natural extension that the ground should be imported into the pocket. I suppose the problem is that you don't know what's in the soil, though out in the middle you wouldn't expect to find glass particles or anything of the like.

We're forging ahead slowly, but yes, let's have another close look at it. They've only just finished six months' examination of the intimidation Laws, and we're going to have to do it again now. I certainly can't go along with those who say that you can do what you like with the ball and I was much taken by Mike Procter (South African coach) when he said that bowlers are now scared to handle the thing.

Tim Lamb

TCCB cricket secretary

WE think there are improvements that can be made to the Laws, which is why we have 'playing conditions' for first-class cricket which we consider to be improvements on the Laws as written. The Laws are primarily written for recreational club cricketers, but the requirements of first-class cricket are very different. For instance, club sides couldn't have six replacement balls for every time the umpires feel that the ball has been tampered with; most of them have difficulty finding one.

As regards Law 42.5, we have put in place a more stringent playing condition for our domestic cricket where the umpire inspects the ball after every over; the Law says that frequent and irregular inspections of the ball should be made. We have also set up a list of actions for the umpires if it is felt that the ball has been tampered with. If this works with domestic cricket, and there have been no formal reports of ball-tampering by any umpire in the two seasons that we've had it, then my personal view is that it might as well be considered for use in international cricket.

Jack Bannister

BBC commentator

IT IS perfectly legal to make one side of the ball heavy by sweat and spit; reverse swing only becomes illegal if the bowlers are hastening the process by making the rough side lighter by gouging bits out. That is the element that brought the cries of cheat to Wasim and Waqar in 1992. There is, in my view, a strong case for widening Law 42.5 to revert to the practice permitted before 1980 of rubbing the ball on the ground. The balance of cricket has shifted so far in favour of the batsman that treatment of the ball should be permitted as long as umpires can control it: in other words, no tearing away at the surface until strips of leather are removed. Only bowlers with the ability to bowl fast and the control to bowl yorkers would benefit, as would the game of cricket. Bouncers were hardly used in 1992 by Wasim and Waqar, who are to be congratulated for producing some of the most spectacular bowling ever seen in England. They won that series on superior ability; a minor change in Law 42.5 would ensure that neither they nor their imitators need be clouded by controversy.

Derek Underwood

Ex-England spinner

THE Law is actually pretty clear - you don't use any artificial substance on the ball. Otherwise that Law is contravened. I do feel that this is quite clear, quite straightforward. But it does become open to question when you are asking whether or not a substance is being applied; that is where the conjecture arises. However, whoever you talk to, you'll find that we've all seen what has happened and we're all rather sad about it.

At one stage, we were allowed to rub the ball in the dirt. If the wicket was turning and we had a new ball, we'd rub it in. Blokes also rolled the ball along the ground to the bowler to rough it up. The spinners could be on in the third over in India. We had that phase but it was stopped; why, I'm not certain.

Phil Edmonds

Ex-England spinner

I'M very much an exponent of 'Play-up and play the game'. Cricket is so inherent to our culture, it's important that the image of the game isn't affected in any way. As a professional, I never knew any of the Laws specifically. Some inherent quality causes you to abide by the rules that you've been brought up with, without specifically knowing what they are. I think that's the same with most rules in life; they come through experience. Without reading it, one would know that you are not allowed to gouge the ball. The thing is that cricket is so much at the heart of our culture, and the very word 'Skipper' imbues the man with so much knowledge of life. That is why the behaviour of the England skipper is so important, and this is why we have this controversy.

Jonathan Agnew

BBC correspondent

LAW 42.5 is proving extremely difficult to prove conclusively, and this is indeed a problem. Saying that you shouldn't be punished for ball-tampering because everybody does it, is absolutely ridiculous. The Law is very clear, it's simply that cricket is played on a hard surface with a hard bat and hard boundary boards and the ball does get beaten up. It's difficult for umpires to tell if the beating up is occurring naturally. Incidents of ball-tampering in county cricket have decreased dramatically since they introduced the very simple regulation of handing the ball to the umpire at the end of every over. I think that should become a regulation in Test cricket - the game has to depend more on a deterrent, which is the thought that the umpire is going to have a look at the ball at the end of every over.

Atherton was within the Law to carry dirt in his pocket. You can go out into the field with whatever you want, even a bottle top in your pocket. It struck everyone as very strange at the time that Mike Atherton should be fined pounds 1,000 for apparently breaking a non-existent law.

Chris Broad

Ex-England opener

WHAT this is about is people putting a different interpretation on a simple statement. Differing opinions can make so much more of a simple statement: if you have rules that say 'This is ball-tampering', someone's going to say 'But what about. . .' I don't believe that you can have one statement covering everything. And unless the umpire checks the ball after every delivery, which is impractical, there is always going to be some leeway. Therefore they should accept that certain misdemeanours will happen. You could go to every game and pick up something contrary to the Laws.

The pictures on television look a bit suspect, but I don't believe anyone can prove that Atherton's telling a lie, so you've got to accept it. For this reason, people calling for his head are quite ridiculous. He might have been very naive to think the cameras wouldn't have picked up on anything, as I was once: I didn't realise at Lord's that there was a Sun editor watching me on television when I'd just got out. Maybe he did the same, but he's probably learnt his lesson.

Bob Willis

Ex-England captain

I NEVER tampered with the ball in my life and I take great exception to people who say that bowlers, in general, do. I wasn't really a swing bowler anyway, in fact I was always accused by my fellow bowlers of not shining the ball enough. But I don't think that any further tinkering with the Law 42.5 is necessary. The danger is that they might say that you can't do anything to the ball, which would effectively kill off swing bowling at a stroke. I suppose the other end of the spectrum is to do anything to it you want - take your whole sculpting kit out with you. But being a biased old bowler, I do think the game is too much in favour of the bat.

I don't think this Law should be a grey area, though. It's only the interpretation of last weekend's events that make it so. Illingworth fined Atherton for having dirt in his pocket, but there's nothing in the Laws against this. So why was he fined? Illingworth needs to explain that further. One interpretation might be that he was really fining him for tampering with the ball, in which case that rather adversely affects Mr Atherton's position.

(Photograph omitted)