Vaughan reopens ball-tampering controversy

January 13, 2010

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Michael Vaughan in retirement does not shrink from the limelight. Or from controversy.

The former England captain commentates on BBC radio, writes a newspaper column and appears in a hair transplant advertisment. He also indulges in “artballing”, hitting paint-daubed balls at a blank canvas attached to a wall.

“I’ve a very active mind,” Vaughan explained after calling time on his cricket career last year.

Last week, Vaughan turned that mind to cricket again and gave voice to the thoughts of many neutrals when he criticised England pace bowlers Stuart Broad and James Anderson for eye-catching activities during the drawn third test against South Africa in Cape Town.

Television cameras showed Broad stopping the ball with his foot while Anderson was filmed picking at the leather with his fingernails. The South Africans expressed their concern at possible ball tampering but did not officially complain.

Vaughan said the general reaction would have been very different had Pakistan been involved.

“If this had been a game involving Pakistan, and Shoaib Akhtar or Mohammad Asif had been pictured using their fingers on the ball, there would have been uproar,” he wrote.

Broad explained that the heat at Newlands had been the reason he stopped the ball with his foot rather than bending down while Anderson argued the pair had been nothing more than absent minded and lazy. The fact that England were only one wicket away from defeat for the second time in the series suggests if there had been ball tampering, it had not been a total  success.

Vaughan’s remarks, though, should not be dismissed lightly. The art of reverse swing was founded in Pakistan where the shine on which conventional swing depends is quickly erased on abrasive pitches.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Sarfraz Nawaz demonstrated that by keeping one side smooth and allowing the other to roughen, the ball would swing in the opposite direction. He passed on the knowledge to Imran Khan who in turn tutored Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

Then the controversy began. Wasim and Waqar tore through the England batting in a 1992 series when the home team collapsed spectacularly five times from positions of comparative safety.

Allan Lamb accused the Pakistanis of ball tampering by deliberately roughening the ball and, although he was fined and suspended by his county, popular opinion was on the England batsman’s side.

The counterview, expressed by the former Warwickshire medium-pacer Jack Bannister in the 1993 Wisden almanac praised Wasim and Waqar for perfecting the “first genuine fast bowling innovation since overarm bowling was legalised in 1864″. He added: “Any genuine innovation in sport is fascinating to watch.Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis won the series for Pakistan on superior ability.”

Substitute Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones for Wasim and Waqar and nobody in England would have disagreed with Bannister’s statement after the 2005 Ashes series, won by England at home. Reverse swing at high speed was now an accepted part of the bowlers’ armoury.

However, in the following year, on the fourth day of the fourth test between Pakistan and England at the Oval, a box of balls was brought on to the field while the home side were batting in their second innings. 

A routine ball replacement became suddenly charged with an awful significance when the batsmen were offered the choice, signalling the umpires believed the previous ball had been doctored. That belief was confirmed when Umpire Darrell Hair awarded five penalty runs to England. A shocked Pakistan side refused to come out after the tea interval and were deemed to have forfeited the match.

Unlike the Broad and Anderson incident, 26 television cameras at the Oval failed to capture any sign of what could be construed as ball-tampering. In short, there was no smoking gun and not only Pakistanis were outraged by Hair’s actions.

Although Broad and Anderson’s actions looked, on replay, more careless than culpable, Vaughan’s words linger. What if it had been Pakistan?

PHOTO: England’s James Anderson (L) hands the ball to team mate Stuart Broad during the third Test against South Africa at Newlands in Cape Town Jan. 6, 2010. REUTERS/Philip Brown

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