Law 42.3b: “It is unfair for anyone to interfere with any of the seams or the surface of the ball. It is also illegal to "use any implement, or take any other action whatsoever which is likely to alter the condition of the ball."
Shoaib Akhtar was caught by television cameras gouging the ball during Pakistan’s 22-run win over New Zealand a fortnight ago. Of course, he claimed he was trying to clean dirt off the ball (a statement that the TV cameras proved false) during his spell of three for 36 off 9.1 overs. He was cited for a level two offence, which carries a two-match suspension and was fined 75% of his match fee. A fair judgment? Not at all if you dig deeper into Shoaib’s bio.
A level three offence this time around would have meant a four-to-eight match suspension and many feel Shoaib totally deserved a harsher verdict. Especially since last fortnight’s transgression was Shoaib’s second tampering act in six months. It is also very puzzling that this somewhat lenient judgment was handed the same day that Malcolm Speed criticized two of cricket’s top umpires for not being strict on two clashing players.
Just six months ago, in November of 2002, Shoaib committed a Level 2 offense, when he threw a bottle into a Zimbabwe crowd with the desired effect of instigating them during a one-day match. In the first test match of the same series, he was officially warned twice by David Orchard and S Venkatraghavan for ball tampering. But Shoaib received nothing more than a severe reprimand for the tampering violation. "The umpires and I inspected the ball and it was clear to us that it had been scratched," added Clive Lloyd, referee for the Zimbabwe match. The ball wobbled unpredictably with deadly reverse swing on that occasion – a clear symptom. Shoaib ended his spell with a match-winning seven-wicket haul. He was given a one-match suspension for bottle throwing.
From the looks of it, the ICC erased the November tampering incident from its memory. Not only that, when you compare Shoaib’s rap on the knuckle with the punishment handed to Sachin Tendulkar when he “removed grass from the ball without informing the umpires” last year, you will wonder if ICC is really consistent with its penalties.
I say that because in Sachin’s case, television footage showed him trying to remove grass with his fingers (not gouging the ball) and there was no complaint from on-field umpires that the ball had been tampered with. In fact, the ICC spokesman Jonathan Hamus said as much when he pronounced “Sachin Tendulkar has not been found guilty of ball tampering. The punishment was for removing grass from the ball but not having informed the umpires, which is very different from ball tampering."
One match and 75% of the fee for taking grass off the ball! But only two matches and 75% fee for gouging the ball two times in six months! I am not suggesting that Sachin should have been let go lightly (that was the subject of much venting in India). But can we have some consistency here.
A predominantly Pakistani problem – but not entirely
Several Pakistani bowling greats including Waqar Younis and Azhar Mohammed have been accused of doctoring the ball. In fact, before Shoaib was caught, Waqar was the only player ever to have received a ban for ball-tampering. He was given a one-match suspension two years ago after he was seen on television lifting the seam during a one-day international against South Africa in Sri Lanka. Allrounder Azhar Mahmood was also fined 50% of his match fee for a similar offence in the same match.
Pakistan Cricket Board fined six first-class cricketers who were found guilty of ball tampering during the Ramadan Cup one-day cricket tournament in November 2002! "If we have to clean the menace of ball tampering from our domestic cricket, we have to come down hard on the culprit cricketers. And this (penalty) is just the beginning," PCB’s General Manager for Cricketing Operations, Zakir Khan said.
Accusations of Pakistani ball tampering have been doing their rounds for well over a decade.
Over a decade ago, in 1992, fast bowlers Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were accused of ball-tampering in England, but they were later cleared. Wasim, who threatened to go to court over the allegations said at the time, "when we showed them how to reverse swing the ball, they blamed us for tampering with it. Now everyone is learning how to reverse swing."
In 1996, Imran Khan won a libel suit against Ian Botham and Allan Lamb after they had accused him of ball-tampering. On that occasion, Imran said the two players were uneducated and had no class. The episode did little to improve Botham’s popularity in Pakistan, who had once remarked that Pakistan was "a place to send your mother-in-law."
In February of 1999, the Indian cricket team complained that Pakistani players tampered with the ball during the `Friendship' Test series matches at Chennai and New Delhi. Sources said at that time that Azharuddin made a mention of ball tampering in his match report to match referee Cammie Smith. Indian-make Duke balls, which were considered to be susceptible to tampering, were used during the two-match series. In the Asian test championship that followed, Kookaburra balls were used. Unlike the Indian balls, Kookaburras are reputed to retain the shine for a longer period.
Ball tampering has a long history in cricket, widely practiced in the past by bowlers -- armed with bottle tops, fingernails and vaseline -- to try and make the ball swing or seam more.
Of course, players from other countries have also been accused of tampering from time to time. England's Michael Atherton was fined for breaking the rules by rubbing dirt from his pocket. And Sachin’s case has been the subject of much debate. But Pakistani practitioners of reverse-swing have been in the news more than others!
Act tough. And be consistent.
The ICC is sending the wrong signals to any team that needs some extra wickets in a close match. It is saying that they may call the twelfth man in, have him tamper the ball, and then try inject venom into the tail overs. The cost - just a two match suspension for an unwanted twelfth man and his match fee!
It is time ICC gave its ball tampering rule more bite – it should force the country that violated the rules to forfeit the match.
Ball tampering is the cricketing equivalent of Enron! If ICC is lax in applying the rules, things can easily get out of hand.