The most important thing to remember about ball tampering is this: it works. This is the principal reason why many in cricket, and they tend to be batsmen, view those who dare to mark or scratch the surface of a cricket ball as evil, morally bankrupt miscreants.
If the careful and skilful movement of a fingernail on a cricket ball made no difference to the way it behaved nobody would give a damn. But that is not the case. A bowler has to be extremely skilful to turn the supposed transgression into wickets but by scratching a cricket ball almost any bowler can get it to swing.
Many, myself included, would say: what is wrong with that? The best and most interesting games of cricket are those where wickets fall at regular intervals and where the balance between bat and ball is equal, not tilted hugely in the favour of batsmen, which is the case on far too many occasions.
Bowlers struggle to come to terms with the way the game reacts to what they believe to be a minor act. They are allowed to maintain the condition of a ball but not increase its rate of deterioration. Strange. Even at the best of times bowlers feel sorry for themselves, believing the Laws are continually amended to make a batsman's life easier and theirs harder, which, of course, they are.
There are also huge inconsistencies in cricket as to what is right or wrong. When a batsman knowingly edges the ball to the keeper and stands his ground it is deemed to be "part of the game". But should a bowler dare to stop the ball with his boot, as Stuart Broad did in Cape Town, he is a cheat. What a load of codswallop.
Historically bowlers are considered to be a bit dopey but they are actually cricket's great innovators. They have had to be to compete, and tinkering with a cricket ball has been one of the ways this goal has been achieved. Tampering, like swine flu, is not a modern problem – it has been around for a number of years.
There are many ways of doing it. The seam of a cricket ball has always been picked, especially on softer, grassier English pitches. The belief is that a prouder seam will make the ball deviate more when it makes contact with these types of pitch.
Swing movement, movement in the air rather than off the pitch, is different. Many years ago Vaseline and sunblock were deliberately applied to a ball to keep one side of it shiny, which helped swing movement. More recently, sugary saliva has been thought to do a better job, which is the reason why modern fielders are always sucking on wine gums, jelly babies and mints. Heaven knows what the dental bills are like.
These types of tampering have been tolerated because they only encourage seam and conventional swing movement, not the dreaded reverse swing. Reverse swing is a dirty word in cricket but, believe it or not, it can occur naturally when matches are played on rough pitches and the outfield is dry. But it can be made to occur at a faster rate through tampering, and because it is guaranteed to be successful and is easier to bowl it is not looked upon as sympathetically.
There are many who believe that, within reason, a bowler should be allowed to do what he likes to a cricket ball. The ball is the implement through which he earns his living and nobody tells a batsman what type of bat he has to use, so long as it meets the Laws of the game.
The problem with allowing bowlers to do what they want to a ball is that "within reason" becomes impossible to police. Nobody would mind if it was just a little scratching and picking that took place. The problem is that if the Law was removed it could result in a fielder standing at mid-off with a Swiss Army Knife in his pocket cutting chunks out of a ball, and this cannot be allowed. On an infamous tour of Pakistan and after taking career-best figures of 7-52, Chris Pringle, the modest New Zealand medium-pacer, admitted that he had used a bottle top to mark a ball when bowling because he believed his opponents had been doing the same.
It hurts me to say it, but the Laws are probably correct and should stay as they are – but the stigma of being caught tampering should be treated in the same manner as a batsman not walking when he has knowingly hit the ball.
I don't know how Onions does it
Continuing the "let's feel sorry for bowlers theme", why is it always bowlers who find themselves in the nerve-racking position Graham Onions has twice on England's tour of South Africa? I was there once, against South Africa at Old Trafford in 1998, and it was horrible.
From the moment you arrive at the ground you know this exact situation may occur and you sit there for hour after hour worrying about it. Partnerships take place and then wickets fall. The sixth wicket falls and you put your whites on, the seventh and it's your thigh guard, chest guard and box. The eighth and on go your pads. Then the ninth wicket goes and off you go. You don't want to enter the arena but you have to. As you leave the dressing room your team-mates wish you luck, but deep down you know they do not have a lot of belief in you as you walk out to the middle. Once there your mouth is dry and you struggle to talk as the opposition continually remind you of the pressure you are under.
Surviving, as Onions has twice, is unbelievably rewarding but failing is devastating. Wrongly, you feel the defeat is your fault.