Nail the Manipulators

Nail the Manipulators

I am really surprised why it took so long for the authorities to realise that some bowlers are using unfair means to swing the ball in international matches.  Sarfaraz Nawaz, that ‘great’ fast medium bowler of the ‘seventies takes the credit for inventing and mastering this art of ‘doctoring’ the ball’ and it is learnt, he later on passed the tricks to others bowlers. And he did this only when his playing days were over, mind you. So, there’s nothing new about ball tampering.

The Australians play their cricket hard, and if you remember well, they asked for the ball to be changed in the slog overs of the 1999 World Cup match against Pakistan. The reason – ostensibly – was that they could not sight the soiled ball. But was there something beyond that? I dare say that the ploy was to nullify the reverse swing of the ‘doctored‘ ball by changing it. I remember that Wasim Akram and his lads were furious after the umpires acceded to the Aussie request. Akram has even gone on record saying that the decision to change the ball was unfair. Look who’s talkin’!

In Sri Lanka recently, John Reid, the former New Zealand skipper and now match referee had the courage of conviction to haul up Waqar Younis for tampering with the ball. He is a tough guy, this John Reid, notwithstanding the charges of racism being thrown around freely. Waqar is lucky to have got away with a one-match suspension. But what really gets my goat is the fact that it took so long for somebody to act against this illegal means of ‘shining’ the ball. Others in authority probably have preferred to look away when the crime occurs so that they do not lose their ‘kursis’.

Now, if the powers that be are not ready to stop ‘doctoring’ of the ball, especially by the Pakistanis, then I would advise other teams of the cricketing world to learn this subtle ‘art’ of ‘scratching the ball’ too. All’s fair in love and war. And who better to teach this art to bowlers of other countries than the pioneers themselves. Each country could employ a Pakistani bowling coach for their bowlers to learn how to ‘reverse swing’ the ball. Provided it does not rankle, countries other than Pakistan will have to learn the ‘subtle art’ of scratching the ball and reverse swinging it when the authorities are conveniently looking away.

Whatever may be said about the ‘illegal’ means employed by the Pakistanis to get prodigious swing from a ball that is more than 70 overs old, my hats off to these innovative neighbours of ours. Bowlers in other cricket playing countries are still struggling to control ‘natural’ swing, while the Pakistanis can move it around like a boomerang! I am reminded of the 1982-3 series in Pakistan when Sarfaraz Nawaz and Imran Khan, in the absence of neutral umpires and match referees, literally made the ball stand up and talk. The swing bowlers in the Indian side, including yours truly, came back with a terrible complex and doubts about our bowling abilities after that series.

A few years ago, long after he had hung up his cricketing boots, a Pakistani all rounder, better known as the ‘man with the golden arm’ admitted to have had a golden nail instead of a golden arm. His conscience may have really troubled him to have admitted this. But what about his records. Will they be changed because of his confession? What about the many matches he may have won for his country by breaking an important partnership? Will that change? And what about the many budding careers he may have wrecked because of his deceit? Can he repair that? Think of this when you gauge the tremendous amount of damage done to cricket by these spineless authorities who fail to see ball tampering as a sin.

We hear such a commotion being made over match fixing allegations. Is tampering of the ball less serious an offence? It is the responsibility of all concerned, be it umpires, coaches, match referees or administrators, to hold the manipulators and scamsters by the scruff of the neck and throw them out of the game. Cricket is too noble a game to accommodate these imposters who bend the rules of the game for their own personal benefit. I am reminded of the story of the thief, who when caught, wanted to cut off his mother’s ears, for she had heard about his activities but did not stop him from doing so. Modern technology and committed mediamen – God bless them – have helped expose the culprits. But what are the so called ‘watch dogs’ of cricket doing?

Imagine a one-match ban for a fraudulent act such as tampering with the ball! What message will it carry to others who practice this dubious art? When somebody is caught bending the rules, and the tapes prove it beyond doubt, the authorities should impose a ban that really hurts. The punishment should be so stringent that others should think twice before committing the same error. And what about the captain of the side? Is he less responsible for the bowlers’ act? If he is responsible for drawing up the strategy of the match, does he really not know what the bowler is doing? If he does not, then how does he know that a particular bowler will deliver the goods, with his reverse swing, in the crunch overs? I would support stringent punishment for the captain of the side too. He is equally responsible for the wrong doings of his team-mates.

It is time the game was cleaned up. The ICC and the Cricket Boards of all cricketing countries have to take a stand against cheating, and implement rules effectively. Once a life-ban is imposed on two or three players – at the domestic as well as international level – who habitually bend the rules to suit themselves, things will fall in place. The Boards and their officials should adopt a no-nonsense attitude. There has been enough damage caused by the match-fixing allegations, and cricket has lost many fans. Before the game dies a natural death, the powers that be in world cricket should wake up and diagnose the disease. Sweeping the dust under the carpet will not help any longer.