Lloyd won't play ball

Stephen Fay sees suspicion cast over the bowlers' mood swings
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The Independent Online
The first accusations of ball-tampering of the high summer emerged at Lord's yesterday, but they appear to be influenced more by the England versus Pakistan match in the law courts rather than anything that has happened on the field of play.

The customary hint that Pakistan's superiority might be the result of ball-tampering came from Richie Benaud on television but was immediately played down by David Lloyd, the England manager, who said: "I don't want to get into any rows." It was then firmly rejected by Pakistan's team manager, Yawar Saeed, who said that his bowlers were not merely above board, "they are above two boards."

Pakistan's destruction of England's batting was accomplished by fast bowlers using the old ball, or, rather, a new old ball, which they had taken in the 78th over of the England innings, three overs before the second new ball was due. Wasim Akram did not bother with it and the old one was quite fearsome enough to finish England off after 103.4 overs.

One of the turning points must have been when Wasim and Waqar Younis finally persuaded the umpires to change the ball. They had begun to complain about its shape and texture the previous evening, and kept up their litany until Steve Bucknor finally went to the pavilion steps to select a replacement from two boxes of battered specimens. This one swung more than its predecessor and, before long, Waqar was in among the England tail like an ill-tempered dog among blameless sheep.

If the ball really did make a difference, a second turning point should have come in the 39th over of Pakistan's second innings when Mark Ealham's complaint about the ball was accepted. But Dominic Cork's immediate recall produced no magic swing. His first over went for seven runs, and Saeed Anwar did not argue when the dressing-room signal was to stay put rather than accept the umpire's offer of bad light. It may have cost him a century, and it was Pakistan's decision to play on rather than the ball that gives England the faintest chance of saving the game.

The balls, however, have clearly affected the pattern of the match. When the captains tossed to decide which make would be used at Lord's, Pakistan chose Readers. Fast bowlers tell their captains that Dukes balls swing more when new, while Readers balls are more likely to swing after some use. Lloyd believes Readers balls are the softer of the two. English bowlers traditionally prefer Dukes; Wasim and Waqar want Readers.

What matters is that bowlers believe different balls behave differently. Cork and Alan Mullally began to swing the ball on Thursday only after the replacement of an old ball, and Waqar and Wasim bowled more fiercely after the ball change.

But the truth was that the damage to England's hopes had been done less by the state of the ball than the quality of Pakistan's pace attack. When fast and accurate deliveries start to swing as well, science is no help at all.

The best explanation for success or failure in a Test lies more in the head than the equipment. But that is even more mysterious than the behaviour of the ball.