On a television debate a few days ago when asked whether he considered Wasim Akram or Mohammed Amir to be the better left-arm pace bowler, the expert picked Akram and stated that he was miles ahead.
Obviously, he had not taken into consideration ball tampering charges against Akram, which Pakistan bowlers of that era were accused of doing with impunity. For a large part of his career, most people were unaware of how the Pakistani paceman was getting an old ball to swing so prodigiously. Gradually people cottoned on to ball-tampering tricks, admitted by Imran Khan in his autobiography. Additionally, Waqar Younis became the first international bowler to be banned for a match and fined for ball tampering in the match against South Africa in Sri Lanka in July 2000. His pace bowling partner Azhar Mahmood was also fined. Akram, although placed on a pedestal as one of the pace bowling greats of world cricket will be forced to live under the shadow of ball doctoring, even if it was never conclusively proved against him.
In the present system, however, modern-day bowlers have to contend with 30 television cameras placed strategically and following the ball on its path from fielder to fielder until it reaches the bowler. They would have to be extremely foolish to try anything illegal in such a scenario.
It is for this reason that Sri Lanka skipper Dinesh Chandimal’s ball-tampering episode seemed so downright idiotic. In fact, if the charge levelled against him by on-field umpires Aleem Dar and Ian Gould, and television umpire Richard Kettleborough is proved at the inquiry to be conducted after the Test, then it doesn't bode quite well for Chandimal.
Why on earth would the captain of a national team attempt to do such a thing with television cameras active all around him? The Aussies used newcomer Cameron Bancroft for the dirty work and almost got away with it. A skipper, on the other hand, is always watched, which is why it is difficult to comprehend Chandimal’s transgression. It looks awful on tape and he will be extremely lucky if he gets away with it.
The amazing aspect of ball doctoring is that many cricketers, administrators and umpires were aware of it even during Akram, Younis and Imran’s days, but like some secret society sworn to the code of omerta, did not speak about it until media started asking uncomfortable questions of their own fast bowlers’ inability to swing the ball and thus exposed it.
Funnily, even now, as long as umpires and match referees are looking the other way this can still be done.
But occasionally, when it is brought into the open, correctly or erroneously, there is a price to pay. Of course, Sri Lanka is not a cricketing powerhouse. We’ll know soon enough who has to bear the brunt of this ball-tampering charge — Umpire/umpires/match referee or Chandimal. The issues go beyond Chandimal and Lanka.
One does not know if the sweet that Chandimal was sucking on was the type that produces extra saliva and helps in shine for the ball. But the cameras caught him slip one into his mouth and seconds later use saliva to polish the ball. This was on the second evening of the St Lucia Test against Windies at a time when Lanka were desperate for wickets.
The umpires viewed the tape that evening and next morning just before the start of play laid the charge of ball tampering on the Lankan skipper, replaced the ball and added five penalty runs to Windies’ total.
The Lankans were outraged and wanted to know why they had not been informed the previous night. The rules, however, allow for Level 1 or Level 2 breaches to be charged before the start of next day’s play.
The Lankans refused to take the field and their team management got into a heated argument with match referee, former India fast bowler Javagal Srinath. He told them that an inquiry after the Test would give Lankans the opportunity to put across their views. But they would not budge.
The match referee finally delivered an ultimatum — take the field prior to 11.30 am failing which he would award the Test to Windies and commence punitive measures against the team. That seemed to have done the trick.
But this push-back from teams is not new. In 2006, when Pakistan were in a similar situation in a Test in England, a few apologists claimed that Pakistan players did not understand the charges as umpires Darrel Hair and Billy Doctrove spoke in English.
When they realised what it was all about they refused to take the field after tea. Soon Hair and Doctrove awarded the Test to England. Thirty minutes later, although both Pakistan and England were willing to recommence the Test the umpires said it had already been awarded to England and refused to take the field.
Umpire Hair was punished for his role in the episode while Doctrove got away.
There have been other instances too. But the bottom line is that with too much money and investment riding on a match, umpires or players not taking the field is a blot on the game and decreases its brand value.
Already Lankans have mega problems of their own — lack of funds, inability to attract sponsorship for their premier league, trail of unpaid bills, etc. These problems would certainly impact any attempt for rational thinking. This would also make them putty in the hands of vested interests.
Thus although the ball-tampering charge looks like an open and shut case, there are many wheels that will be set in motion. Plainly put, Can the ICC afford to be strict?
One massively interested party would be Australia. If Chandimal is let off, why would they want the ban on Smith, Warner and Bancroft to run the course of the year?
Watch this space folks.