Now that Pakistan skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq has been cleared of ball-tampering charges by the International Cricket Council (ICC), a dark cloud has lifted from the game — at least for the moment. Pakistan had landed in trouble during the fourth Test against England at the Oval when umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove penalised them five runs for allegedly tampering with the ball. The Pakistani players were incensed at the decision and, after tea, stayed on in their dressing room in protest. Subsequently, the umpires removed the bails and the Test became the first match in history to be forfeited.
The ICC has done well to balance all available evidence and absolve Inzamam of ball-tampering charges. The penalty of a four-match ban to Inzamam for ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ seems fair, especially since it happens to be the minimum possible for refusal to take the field while the game is in progress. That said, it is unlikely the thorny issue of ball-tampering will go away.
Bowlers routinely polish one side of a new ball — leaving the other side to become rough through wear and tear — so that they can swing it in the air. The laws of aerodynamics push the shiny side faster through the air, while the rough side creates a drag, thus imparting a swing to the ball. As it loses its shine, however, the ball swings less — until one side gets so rough as to cause the ball to ‘reverse swing’.
The seam, which acts as a sort of ‘rudder’ for the swinging ball, can be easily picked and it is an open secret that bowlers and fielders exploit this to try and produce that ‘unplayable’ ball. Many players like former Pakistan skipper Imran Khan have admitted to ‘lifting the seam’ and even using bottle tops ‘to scuff the ball and make it swing’.
Since it is not always possible for an umpire to say if a ball has been deliberately tampered with or it had become rough by hitting advertising hoardings or concrete stands, it leaves grey areas in the existing rules. Perhaps the ICC should substitute its on-pitch punishment rules with one that allows the match to continue, while investigators decide on the issue later.