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Hair-splitting over uncut nails!

Simple ways can avert cricket's many unnecessary rows, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Aug 25, 2006 18:32 IST

One of the most durable and time-tested proverbs of English language is: "For want of a nail a kingdom was lost".

Simply put, the fate of something of great importance may depend on an apparently trivial detail, which we often tend to lose sight of.

The proverb could not have been more on target for the recent controversy involving England, Pakistan and a 'Hair-turned-hound'.

For many years, whenever a ball tended to reverse swing, there had been allegations of tampering with it. Be it scuffing one side with "dirt-in-the-pocket", or nail, or a hard metal, or just picking the seam of it to suit the bowling requirements.

However, few simple solutions would have, in a significant way, taken care of the ball tampering and many other ills plaguing fair play in this gentleman's game.

Nail cutter and laws on Jewellery

A simple tool, costing less than a dollar and used in primary schools to ensure children maintain hygiene. The very tool could have been effectively used to maintain 'cricketing hygiene' as well!

Just checking the nails of the bowling side before the start of an innings and taking corrective steps can minimize the potential damage to a ball. This small step will make picking the seam all the more difficult, and using nails to disfigure the ball almost impossible.

Oval test may not be salvaged now, but pro-active, if not biased umpiring, can be handled by just taking care of one small little piece called nail.

There can be protests initially, but there are examples of other sports. In wrestling, at the start of each bout, the referee checks for ''fingernails, wetness on the skin, skin infections" before starting the match. In soccer, it is mandatory not to wear any jewellery, metal devices, or hazardous equipment. FIFA's law book forbids it saying, "All items of jewellery are potentially dangerous" and adds "rings, earrings, leather or rubber bands are not necessary to play and the only thing they can bring about is injury".

Cricket, though not a contact sport, can take a cue.

Why not introduce a law on nails in cricket? Also cricketers can be asked to dispense with any piece of ornament, like ring and Kada, which can be used to disfigure the ball.

Law on spitting

One of the most abominable aspects of this gentlemen's game is players and bowlers virtually spitting on their fingers and polishing the ball. Not only does it hurt the aesthetic sense of a viewer,  but is plain unhygienic and sets bad example for young kids.

Besides, as the age-old habit tends to give unfair advantage to pace bowlers by keeping the shine on one side for long, an immediate banning of the act will go a long way towards countering what is popularly called "the making of the ball".

There's no need to consult the match referee for this offense. Immediately impose 10% match fine on anybody found (on camera) using spit to shine the ball, and see the result.

Camera vigil

If four cameras can primarily be dedicated to run-outs, why not two cameras from both the ends just dedicated to the ball to find out any wrong doing on the part of the bowling side.

It will take a lot away from umpire's discretion - discretion that at times, as shown by the Oval drama, is judgmental, and can be perceived to be biased.

Instead of 26 cameras, as in the England-Pakistan series, one may need to employ 28 to make the vigil really penetrative, but it will be worth much more in terms of fair play.

New Ball after 60 overs?

Instead of allowing players a new ball after 80 overs, ICC may consider giving it after 60 overs, which will help the "relatively honest" teams who are unable to 'make-the-ball'. It will allow them more overs with the new balls, and the other 'unfair' side a choice between reverse swing and a new ball rather early.

This very step will also reduce the overs between a reverse swinging ball and the new ball by whopping 50 per cent in most cases, unless the ball starts reverse swinging after 20-25 overs as happened in the last Ashes series. 

Though spinners may not like this idea, but the change after 60 overs, as at present, will only be optional for sides opting for spinner-heavy attack.

Implementing these laws will not need much effort. It will also not require too much of brainstorming. But with the threat of major monetary losses and looming racial divide, it may be worth all the effort.