Why ball-tampering must be legalised

Last Updated: Fri, Feb 05, 2010 11:47 hrs

By R Rajesh Kumar

Biting can have seminal consequences.

Belief: Adam and Eve bit into an apple and lo and behold! Life on earth was born.

Fact: Shahid Afridi bit into a cricketing ball and lo and behold! This article was born.

Jokes aside, while the Pakistan stand-in skipper's desperate act in the Perth ODI was so daft that it bordered on the asinine, it has once again brought into sharp focus the question whether ball-tampering should be legalised.

Obviously, players, even if they happen to be Afridi, cannot be allowed to bite the ball either on the field of play or off it. But this does not prevent the ICC from paying heed to calls made by him and by those such as the late Bob Woolmer to legalise one of the game's more 'underhand' arts, now does it?

Let us look at Woolmer's argument.

While terming Law 42.3, which lays down the punishment for those found guilty of changing the condition of the match ball, "an ass", the highly-admired coach, who was also an ex-England Test and county cricketer, ventured to say that "every single bowler I know from the time I played in 1968 to 1984 was guilty, at least under the current law, of some sort of ball-changing".

Discuss:Is Afridi right? | Cricketers react to the Shahid Afridi controversy

He went on to add in the interview given in 2006 that "I'd allow bowlers to use anything that naturally appears on the cricket field. They could rub the ball on the ground, pick the seam, scratch it with their nails - anything that allows the ball to move off the seam to make it less of a batsman's game."

Woolmer 's and Afridi 's haven't been the only voices in support of the move.

As forthright a cricketing expert as Ian Chappell observed that "swinging the ball was terribly important to the game of cricket" and "you've got to do anything you possibly can to keep swing bowling in the game of cricket."

Other card-carrying members of this movement to overhaul the ball-tampering law include such bowling legends as Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan and Allan Donald.

Hadlee's views on the matter in fact echo those of Woolmer to a great extent.

Making a case as far back as in 1995, he stated that "as long as the bowlers or fielders use whatever means they have on their persons, I don't see anything wrong with it (ball tampering). I'm talking about the use of a fingernail to scratch the ball, not bottle tops or those sort of things."

With all these cricketing greats concurring, isn't there indeed a case to have a re-look at a law that has been used to penalise Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid among others?

More so when the leather-flingers are up against batsmen allowed to carry bats as broad as they wish them to be.

This on pitches that have eased up so much so that it is tough to differentiate one from the other.

And which to make matters worse happen in many instances to be situated at grounds that are on the smaller side and where even mishits soar into the stands with ease.

In case, it is the difficulty in deciding the level of tampering that can be deemed legal which is proving to the stumbling block, all that the lawmakers need to do is call up some of the world- famous cricketers named above and kick-start a discussion on the subject.

If the very same lawmaking body could arrive at a 15-degrees-of-flexion allowance when it came to deciding whether a bowler was chucking or not, they surely can work out a formula for legalising tampering too, can't they?

Or alternately, they can even set up a panel of experts and come up with a 'standard' legally tampered ball that will aid reverse swing. The fielding captain could then be given the option of taking this ball after a stipulated number of overs a specific number of times, say twice in a Test and once in ODIs.

The T20s can continue to remain the batsmen's fiefdom. But it needs little gainsaying that in at least the longer versions of the game the custodians of the law need to give the fast bowlers a leg up.

Legalising tampering will help achieve that, while also spicing up a game that is threatening to turn increasingly bland with each passing day.

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