Surrey caught ball-tampering

Surrey 217 v Nottinghamshire 580-4

Surrey were publicly humiliated yesterday after being caught twice tampering with the ball. They then proceeded to compound their profound embarrassment by bowling like drains for most of the day as Nottinghamshire, led by Stephen Fleming with a glorious double century, piled up a first innings lead of 363.

Surrey were publicly humiliated yesterday after being caught twice tampering with the ball. They then proceeded to compound their profound embarrassment by bowling like drains for most of the day as Nottinghamshire, led by Stephen Fleming with a glorious double century, piled up a first innings lead of 363.

The seam-lifting transgression was the most extreme detected since the revised regulation was introduced five years ago and the damage to the county's reputation was greater than the five runs they were penalised. Since Nottinghamshire scored another 575 besides, their highest total against Surrey, the additional quintet was a mere bagatelle, and there was an obvious element of sweet justice in their dominance.

Fleming, captain of New Zealand, has joined Nottinghamshire as captain this summer but they may enjoy his runs as much as his leadership. He was scintillating in scoring 223 not out at exactly a run a ball with 27 fours and five sixes. He put on 206 from 266 balls with Jason Gallian and 175 in 154 with David Hussey, who was plain destructive. The shape of the ball had been altered by then, all right.

The felony of changing the condition of the ball - to try to achieve an unfair advantage, make no mistake - was the greater because it was repeated in such a short space of time. Both the breaches of Law 42.3, involving lifting the quarter-seam, took place within 17 overs on Friday evening with the visitors cruising along.

The umpires, Merv Kitchen and Nigel Llong, could not identify a culprit or culprits and Surrey issued a mealy-mouthed statement. Their coach Alan Butcher said: "Further to the umpires' ruling on the altering of the condition of the ball we will co-operate with any inquiry by the ECB. We are conscious of the need to uphold both the spirit as well as the letter of the laws of cricket."

Mark Ramprakash, Surrey's captain in the game, was not exactly full of contrition. "I spoke with the umpires at the close of play yesterday and they informed me of the penalty this morning. We look forward to playing the rest of the game." Maybe there was not a lot more Ramprakash could say without blowing his top, but it is to be hoped a full-scale search for the guilty finger nail(s) was under way last night.

The umpires struggled to contain their bemusement. Kitchen, the senior of the two, who has been standing for 23 years, said: "You don't get angry about it, but you feel you have been a bit let down."

There had been only one previous uncovered example of ball tampering, when Mohammad Akram was handed three penalty points for Sussex against Warwickshire last year. He is playing for Surrey in this match.

It was first noticed that the ball was not what it should be after around 35 overs of Nottinghamshire's innings. The umpires informed Ramprakash that the quarter seam had been lifted. This is done to form a type of miniature wing, create air resistance and promote reverse swing.

Kitchen and Llong decided against changing the ball because Nottinghamshire were sailing along merrily at 170 for 0 and they did not want to risk a replacement swinging (legally) round corners so that the visitors found themselves all out for, say, 270.

They repaired the ball using a bail and when Llong checked it again some 12 overs later, with five left, it was intact. By that time, Nottinghamshire had also lost their first two wickets, though nobody is putting them down to a dodgy ball. At the close it was discovered that the seam had again been lifted. There was no choice but to impose the penalty and allow the batsmen to choose a replacement ball from one of six offered.

They selected wisely. Fleming, especially, was brilliant. Three times he drove Nayan Doshi into the pavilion for six but he was also brutally elegant cover driving and off his hips. Gallian, who had shared an opening stand of 178 with Darren Bicknell, hit his second century of the season in his 100th match for the county.

At lunch it rained hard and 38 overs were lost, with 31 remaining when play resumed. Gallian went to the first ball back, but Fleming, with support from Hussey, continued on his way. Surrey took a new ball and 53 runs, virtually all in front of the wicket, came from its first six overs. Forty fours and seven sixes came during the day. It was enough to make anybody want to interfere with the ball.

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