PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 12: Steven Smith (capt) of Australia at the post press conference after day 4 of the 2nd Sunfoil Test match between South Africa and Australia at St Georges Park on March 12, 2018 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Ball Tampering – What Now?

The events of the recent Test Match between South Africa and Australia in Cape Town have once again brought the subject of ball tampering to the forefront of world cricket. But, has the offence been thought of as being more serious than previous occurrences given the apparent unpopularity of the current Australian team with various opponents?

From Sarfraz Nawaz and Waqar Younis through to Michael Atherton and most recently Faf du Plessis, ball tampering accusations have always been present in cricket at the highest level. Indeed, had Atherton’s “dirt in the pocket” incident at Lords happened this year rather than in 1994, it would seem likely that he would perhaps not have kept the England captaincy given the social media frenzy this latest incident has caused.

Law 41 – Unfair Play – states that “It is an offence for any player to take any action which changes the condition of the ball”. To allow traditional shining of the ball, there is a sub text to the law which allows provision for polishing the ball without the use of any artificial substances. In the case of du Plessis – who was seen using a mint to create more sugar in his saliva – he argued that this was not using any artificial substance to alter the condition of the ball.

Bancroft and Smith were certainly guilty of the accusation of ball tampering. How exactly they thought that their actions would remain unnoticed by the thirty or more high definition TV cameras recording the match – or the thought process behind the so called leadership group notwithstanding – their crime somehow seems to be much worse than the aforementioned incidents, given the rather cynical and premeditated nature of what happened. Involving one of the newest members of the team in Bancroft shows a lack of moral fibre from the leadership, and surely hefty punishments will be coming their way from Cricket Australia.
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In the future, it is possible that the laws regarding altering the condition of the ball need to be revised slightly – perhaps to be more specific about what is and isn’t allowed. Foreign objects – such as strips of tape / sandpaper or bottle tops should certainly not be allowed, along with willfully damaging or gouging the ball with fingernails. However, would it be fair to say that shining the ball (be it with the use of sugary saliva, or sweat containing suncream) is acceptable? At least this would keep more of a balance between bat and ball, particularly on unresponsive pitches.

Food for thought, although one thing is almost certain – most teams will have used some method of artificially altering the condition of the ball at some point, the question is now what should be classed as being legal and acceptable?

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