England robustly denied yesterday accusations of ball-tampering to achieve reverse swing. Although there has been no official charge, sanction or report, the mutterings which have been around for a week have suddenly burst into the public domain.
Ashley Giles, the team’s one-day coach, said: “No, we don’t tamper with the ball. We play our cricket as hard as anyone else. All the headlines in the papers today are disappointing for us as a team.
“There’s even mention of one of our player’s specific roles, and that player is an extremely good cricketer, has had an extremely good series so far, and we’d like to let him concentrate on playing his cricket.”
The player Giles probably had in mind was Ravi Bopara, though he was careful not to name him. Bopara usually looks after the ball when he plays for England’s one-day side and is himself an adept practitioner of reverse swing. The skill is highly sought-after, and how it happens is a subject of perennial controversy. It was instrumental in England’s win over Australia in Birmingham eight days ago, when they achieved it early on, and again in their loss to Sri Lanka on Thursday, when they did not.
The second match brought the affair into the open. Alastair Cook, England’s captain, was irritated by the umpires’ decision to change the ball because it was out of shape. It had just started to reverse swing and its replacement refused to budge.
Bob Willis, the Sky Sports pundit and former England fast bowler, said on Friday that the umpire Aleem Dar was “on England’s case”.
Giles managed to conceal his understandable annoyance at the allegations. But it is a distraction he could have done without, as England must beat New Zealand today to progress to the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy. He said: “The most important thing for this team is winning that game of cricket, not what Bob Willis is saying.”