Angus Fraser On Cricket

Ball-tampering row seems much ado about nothing to me
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The Independent Online

A batsman knowingly edges the ball through to the wicketkeeper and stands his ground hoping that the umpire will not give him out. A close fielder claims a catch when he is fully aware that the ball has not touched the batsman's bat. A bowler uses his fingernail to scratch one side of a cricket ball in the hope that it will help him take a wicket.

A batsman knowingly edges the ball through to the wicketkeeper and stands his ground hoping that the umpire will not give him out. A close fielder claims a catch when he is fully aware that the ball has not touched the batsman's bat. A bowler uses his fingernail to scratch one side of a cricket ball in the hope that it will help him take a wicket.

Two of these examples are deemed to be part of the game, the other blatant cheating. Which is the odd one out? The reaction of cricket's administrators, and certain sections of the media, to the incidents of ball tampering by Surrey during their recent Championship match against Nottinghamshire has made me chuckle. The stern voices, the expressions of shock, the investigations and the threats of decisive action - fines, suspension or even the sack; heavens above, anyone would have thought something major had happened, and the image of the game had been permanently tarnished.

If only these same people had been this outspoken, and been as concerned with the integrity of cricket, before England's controversial tour of Zimbabwe. Then they might have been worth listening to. But no, they did not want to get involved in something as important as that - it may have cost them money.

Cricket does not want to see bowlers standing at the end of their run-ups wondering which tool on a Swiss Army knife to use, or calling the twelfth man out with a can of Pledge because Mr Sheen is no longer doing the job. But what harm is a fingernail really going to do? Cricketers have been surreptitiously picking the seam and putting "illegal substances" on cricket balls since the game was invented, and it does not appear to have done it too much harm. Teams are rarely bowled out for 50, and during the Surrey match in question, Nottinghamshire scored 692 for 7 in their first innings.

So come on, lads, put down your gin and tonics and dry your eyes. Give the Surrey players a slap on the wrist, warn them about their future conduct and if you must, dock the club a few points in the County Championship. But then let us get on with the game. There is no need to make a mountain out of a raised quarter seam.

Historically cricket is a sport that was designed, and is constantly being amended, for the benefit of batsmen. And it is they - along with aristocrats - who generally control the laws of the game. The age of Gentlemen and Players, when batsmen paid working-class bowlers to come and bowl at them, has gone but its legacy lives on. Changes in the game - covered pitches, helmets, one bouncer per over, the softening of cricket balls - continue to make life more comfortable for batsmen. It is in a bid to remain competitive that bowlers keep coming up with new devices.

But there is one major reason why cricket's administrators seem happy to allow the fielding side to maintain the condition of a cricket ball but prohibit them from increasing the rate at which it deteriorates. And it is because ball tampering works.

Reverse swing - when the rough, dry side of a ball is positioned facing the direction you want the ball to swing from - is something that can be achieved by most bowlers. Even so, it still takes a great deal of skill to turn this movement into a match-winning performance.

On a rough, dry pitch the ball will eventually scuff up sufficiently for it to reverse swing if it is looked after properly. Fielding sides accentuate the rate of deterioration by ensuring that the ball bounces on dry, old pitches when they throw it into the wicketkeeper. To do this, every member of the fielding side must be aware of what the team is trying to achieve, and keep the rough side of the ball as dry as they can when it is passed back to the bowler.

Nothing changes when a ball is tampered with, and most of the side will give a scuff mark an extra little scratch, or have a little pick at the quarter seam as it makes its way back to the bowler. This means it will be very difficult for Surrey to lay the blame of this saga at the feet of one of their players.

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