Ball tampering – is it really a crime?

The recent third test between South Africa and England ended in a thrilling draw (for England fans). Another last wicket stand saw England “win the draw”, again.

But during the game, accusations of ball tampering were raised (through the media, not to the match authorities). As the Laws of the Game stand, ball tampering is just about the most serious crime a cricketer can commit on the field of the play.

It has to be stopped, but first it has to be proven.

Duncan Fletcher, in an article in the Guardian, has suggested employing the third umpire to look out for misdemeanours.

That makes a lot of sense.

But only if we continue to see ball doctoring as a crime. Is it really such a bad thing, if ball preparation allows great (and not so great) bowlers to redress the imbalance between bat and ball? To allow the bowlers to remain competitive for the duration of the match, not only when they have a shiny new ball in their hands?

In the same way that Murali was first condemned (still is, unfairly, in some quarters) for achieving something that no-one else could (i.e. for being too good), then ultimately accepted as the master bowler he is, should we encourage innovation in swing and seam bowling?

And if that needs some preparation of the ball, why not?

Why not allow the bowlers a better grip on the ball?

I have written previously about the possibilities of spin-swerve, at pace, as demonstrated by baseball pitchers. I wonder how batsmen would react to a Shane Warne-like ball-of-the-century delivered at brisk medium pace, and faster?

It’s possible, as shown by baseball pitchers. But of course, they are allowed to use their resin bag, to improve their grip on the ball.

So why not allow bowlers to do the same?

OK – one reason why not – a really skillful spinner, with a resin-enhanced grip, might make batting a much harder proposition (not such a bad thing, from this bowler’s perspective), and seriously cut short the time needed to complete a match.

But how often is the final day of a Test match as enthralling as in the current SA v England series? And if you could fit a full Test match into just 4 days, then why not? In most countries, Test match grounds are rarely full on the final (5th) day. So there would perhaps be no real loss of (gate) revenue involved, especially if the first four days of a game can guarantee more action, and bring in larger crowds.

Would the television channels still pay as much for a series of 4 day Tests? If the viewing figures were good (and the improved “product” should help to achieve that), then why not?

So – why not give bowlers the chance to work on the ball?

Published by

Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB CA cricket coach working at the MCC Academy, the Essex Indoor Cricket Centre, and with the junior sections at Oakfield Parkonians CC & Regent's Park CC; All Stars Cricket Activator; ECB ACO umpire.

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