What is Ball Tampering and Why is it Illegal in Cricket

History and Scandal of Ball Tampering in Cricket

The Sandpaper-gate Scandal


Back in 2018, during Australia’s 3rd test match against South Africa, Cameron Bancroft was caught in front of an international audience on  live TV, the allegation – Ball tampering. He got yellow sandpaper that he used to scuff one side. He was doing it for a very deliberate reason, to create a swing.  For this Ball Tampering Scandal, the leadership, namely Steve Smith and David Warner, lost the orchestration of the Australian team as captain and Vice-captain, respectively.

This invited a ban, for both Smith and Warner, by Cricket Australia for 12 months – a call that convinced the BCCI to also ban them from the IPL – and Bancroft was hit with a nine-month reprimand for the Ball Tampering Scandal. Smith was replaced by Tim Paine as the captain in all formats before Aaron Finch took over from Paine in both the ODIs and T20Is. Cricket Australia also explained that Smith had known about the plot but failed to prevent it so would not be, under Ball Tampering Rules, eligible for a leadership role until a minimum of 12 months after his ban elapses on March 29, 2019.

Coach Lehmann was found clear of any wrongdoing but revealed his intention to stand down after the South Africa series: “It is the right time to step away,” Lehmann said. “I hope the team rebuilds and the Australian public can forgive the young men and get behind the XI.”

How it’s done (Don’t try this at home)

To explain It further, by keeping one side of the ball shiny and smooth, and letting the other side rough up, when bowled in the right way, the ball can move through the air towards the rough side. That’s because air flows differently over each side of the ball, making it really difficult for batsmen to play.

But on this particular occasion, the sandpaper was used to try to create a reverse swing which can be even harder to play. It occurs after the ball gets really rough and strangely, it starts moving through the air in the opposite way you’d expect, towards the shiny side. The primary aim of ball tampering is to interfere with the aerodynamics of the ball to aid swing bowling. That’s why reverse swing can be a game-changer.

Let’s start with the formation of the ball. Cricket balls are made of a cork core and covered in leather sewn down the middle. How polished or dull the leather is, influences how the ball will travel through the air. Air passes faster over polished leather than rough leather. Balls get roughed up and worn naturally during the game, but sometimes bowlers take it a step further to make the ball more unpredictable, and in the 450 years of Cricket been played, they’ve come up with some imaginative ways to execute Ball tampering in the finest of ways.

“There’s sandpaper, sometimes lotions, breath-mints, chewing gums, there are all manner of ways in which to do this. One guy even scraped the ball on the concrete in a car park once after retrieving a six” Andrew miller from ESPN explains. “I don’t believe there’s any elite cricket team that doesn’t go on the cricket field without at least a rudimentary knowledge of ball tampering.”

The issue is, that artificially tampering with the ball is against the Ball Tampering Rules. If it helps or not, it’s cheating, and that’s just not cricket.

Ball Tampering, Swad Anusaar

It’s not against the rules to try to make the ball swing. You’ve probably seen players rub one side of the ball on their pants, or rub saliva on the shiny side. All of that stuff is entirely legal under the rules of the game. However, that extra step of damaging the ball isn’t allowed, that’s called “Ball Tampering”.

Under Law 41, subsection 3 of the Laws of Cricket, the ball may be polished without the use of an artificial substance, may be dried with a towel if it is wet, and have mud removed from it under supervision.

There have been other ball tampering scandals where players were caught red-handed.  Here are some of them:

Faf Du Plessis

The ICC charged Proteas captain, Faf du Plessis with ball tampering on two different occasions.  First, back in 2013, during the third day of the second Test in Dubai where cameras captured footage of South African fielder Faf du Plessis scuffing the ball against the zip of his trousers. The match referee imposed a 50% match fee fine on du Plessis after the fielder pleaded guilty.

The second time was in the 2nd test against Australia in 2016 where he was caught shining the ball with ‘mint saliva’. Du Plessis was shown chewing on mint, sticking his finger into his mouth before shining and rubbing the ball. Du Plessis was warned by the umpire in the first test for deliberately bouncing the ball to rough it up.

The charge was laid by former Proteas wicketkeeper and ICC Chief Executive, David Richardson. Du Plessis pleaded not guilty to the charge but was fined 100 per cent of his match fee by Andy Pycroft, who found the captain guilty of a breach of the ICC’s Code of Conduct.

Dinesh Chandimal

Sri Lanka captain, Dinesh Chandimal has been banned for one Test for ball-tampering against West Indies.

In 2018, at the start of the game on Day 3 of the 2nd Test between West Indies and Sri Lanka in St. Lucia, the visitors led by skipper Chandimal had refused to take the field following a decision by umpires Aleem Dar and Ian Gould to charge them with altering the state of the ball during the latter stages of the second day’s play.

Play only resumed after a two-hour delay with the tourists being assessed five penalty runs. However, it was after these deliberations that the Sri Lankans agreed to the change of ball and to continue playing. Chandimal appealed the charge, but he was given a one-match ban by the ICC.

Shahid Afridi

Shahid Afridi was caught on camera biting the cricket ball in a bizarre attempt to re-adjust the seam of the ball. The ball was eventually replaced but Afridi received a two T20 international match ban for ball tampering in a match against Australia in January 2010.

Afridi had previously been banned for tampering with the pitch in a game against England in 2005.

Sachin Tendulkar

On the 3rd day of the Second Test against South Africa at Port Elizabeth, match referee Mike Denness suspended Sachin Tendulkar for one game in light of alleged ball tampering.

The god of cricket was banned for one Test match, though the sentence was suspended until 31 December 2001. He was also fined 75% of his match fee.

When was the last time you scratched the ball? We hope there were no cameras around.

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