Cricket: Umpires may target bowlers over ball-tampering

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CRICKET'S current cause celebre - ball-tampering - may result in harsher penalties next summer for teams caught with their fingers in the till, or, more pertinently, their fingernails on the seam.

The Test and County Cricket Board's two-day winter meeting, which starts at Lord's today, is likely to be dominated by a subject seldom out of the headlines since the umpires changed a ball in a one-day international against Pakistan last summer.

Allan Lamb subsequently made serious allegations about Pakistan's two fast bowlers, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and Surrey received a pounds 1,000 suspended fine for incidents in county cricket.

Under the current regulations, the only penalty open to the umpires is to change the ball for one of inferior quality, although as the whole point of the exercise nowadays appears to be to make the ball inferior as quickly as possible, penalising the bowling side by tossing them a new one might be an interesting future development.

The TCCB's cricket committee now wants to give umpires teeth as sharp as some of the objects alleged to be involved in this illegal practice, including the removal of a bowler from the attack for a second offence - whether he was personally responsible or not.

However, the Board is unlikely to make any firm decision until its spring meeting in March. This issue is also under scrutiny at international level, and the TCCB is more likely to wait and see what the game's law-makers, MCC, come up with between now and then.

'We know the MCC is looking at it, and it is more likely that we will await developments,' the Board's chief executive, Alan Smith, said yesterday.

Illegal balls of another nature are also up for discussion, namely whether to increase the penalty for bowling a no-ball from one extra to two. This is already in place in Australian domestic cricket, and Tim Lamb, the Board's cricket secretary, said yesterday: 'there are far too many no-balls in the professional game, which, apart from anything else, are irritating for the spectators.'

However, whether an extra run will do the trick is another matter. The modern bowler scarcely oversteps on purpose - even some spinners have problems - and there is a growing lobby of opinion that there will eventually have to be a reversion to the old back-foot law.

Dubious pitches are also on the agenda, with Derbyshire and Northamptonshire wanting to scrap the 25-point penalty for unfit surfaces. This is highly unlikely, although there may be support for Essex's proposal of a two-tier system (10 points or 25) depending on how poor a pitch is adjudged to be.

One further proposal today is for the system of appointing match referees for international matches to be extended to cover all tourist games.

India's cricketers, currently in South Africa, have been worried enough about the turmoil on the subcontinent to spend much of their spare time phoning home. India's manager, Amrit Mathur, said yesterday: 'How this will affect England's winter tour is too early to say.' The TCCB, might look towards South Africa if they decide that the tour, which begins on 28 December, becomes too risky.

The instability has spread to Pakistan, and one side-effect could be to strengthen England's claims to the 1995 World Cup at the expense of the bid from the subcontinent.