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February 11, 2010

Samir Chopra

Legalise it - The case for ball-tampering

Samir Chopra

I tend to classify my political views into two categories: those where I can understand my opponent's point-of-view and am willing to entertain it seriously, and those where no matter how hard I try, my brain doesn't seem to understand why anyone would hold a contrary view. Matters of economic management tend to fall into the first category and lifestyle choices fall into the second.

Similarly, when it comes to cricket. An example of a view where I don't understand the case for the opposition is the business of legalising ball tampering. I would ask someone to explain to me why ball-tampering is still illegal, but since I don't get it, I'll stick to expressing my bewilderment. At a time when cricket has increasingly become a batsman dominated game, when the single biggest threat to Test cricket is not the IPL or T20 but the roads that are routinely produced by groundsmen the world over, what precisely is the case against ball-tampering?

The great Wasim Akram, arguably the finest exponent of the arts of swing in recent years, has argued that it is pointless. But with all due respect to Akram, there is very little chance he would have come out in favor of ball-tampering. Given the steady stream of allegations against Pakistan bowlers over the years, it would have been highly problematic on his part to have come out in favor of ball-tampering; plenty of people would have regarded it as a tacit admission of guilt and simply said, "About time the Pakistanis 'fessed up. The Pakistanis must have been doing it in 1992 and Pakistani cricketers and journalists have been lying since then." No, not really a satisfactory state of affairs.

But Akram's comments then prompt a further question: if he doesn't think tampering is going to help bowlers swing the ball, then why not simply make tampering legal? Let bowlers do their worst; at the very least, we won't have any of these silly allegations made against fast bowlers. Indeed, Akram seems to have missed a trick on this one. It is the illegality of ball tampering which has criminalised so much behavior and led to so much rancor.

Other arguments are straightforwardly moralising: it is cheating, it is unfair, it sends the wrong message to youngsters. These "what will the children think" expressions of concern are touching. But they leave me cold, for they fall into the same old tired pattern of only proscribing that behavior in cricket which favors batsmen.

To proscribe an activity is to seek to discourage some behavior and concomitantly send out a message about what behavior is considered permissible in a society. Keeping ball-tampering illegal does neither. Bowlers and fielders continue to strive for advantage in a world stacked in favor of batsmen and the moralists in the game continue to throw around the "cheat" slur. Cricket remains locked in a mode where it persists in making some behavior illegal almost as if to ensure that a certain discourse continues to take place amongst its followers.

This sanctimony helps no one; it inflates batting averages, stacks the field unfairly against bowlers, and contributes, most irritatingly, to a vocabulary full of the word "cheat". When I see an area of conversation that is full of morally-inflected slurs thrown around at behavior that is common, I know something is amiss. (Like the conversation surrounding "drugs", where hypocrites like to think those that smoke marijuana are "doing drugs" while they pour themselves a glass of fine Pinot Noir).

Cricket should get over the batsman-favoring morality it is so in love with (witness the shock and horror over Mankading, which plenty of fans think is unsporting). Every single moral debate in cricket has something to do with making the world safer for batsmen: restrict bouncers, increase over-rates, condemn Mankading, keep ball-tampering illegal, don't appeal if you think the batsman is not out, and so on.

One of my favorite cartoons, reprinted in the World Cricket Digest many, many years ago, shows a trembling vizier confronting a beturbaned maharajah, while a loincloth-clad servant waits. The vizier says "Your majesty, I risk your displeasure, and death by a thousand lashes, but the laws of cricket do not permit your servant to take your run-up while you bowl."

Cricket has a bad habit of treating bowlers like the maharajah's minions. It's about time they were treated like first-class citizens, able to shake up the comfort of the privileged class made up of willow-wielders.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by nasir on (February 12, 2010, 14:48 GMT)

it depends rather bowler is fast or spinner

Posted by Satadru Sen on (February 12, 2010, 5:31 GMT)

With all due respect to Samir's point, I'm inclined to think that "legalized ball-tampering" (for which several former Test cricketers have recently expressed support) will create more problems than it will solve. If using tools and foreign substances (bottle caps, screwdrivers, sandpaper, varnish, Vaseline, whatever.) is made legitimate, we might as well do away with the concept of a regulation cricket ball. (And by the same token, regulations about the length of the pitch, the width of the stumps, the size of the bat, etc.) Perhaps the use of fingernails on the seam or surface can be allowed, but then the next step is the use of the teeth. (Afridi is a pioneer here.) At what point does the umpire intervene: when the bowler has chewed the leather clean off? I agree with Samir about the dominance of batsmen in the contemporary game, but that is best addressed by making wickets more bowler-friendly, allowing two bouncers per over, and reinstating the lbw from outside leg stump.

Posted by Shahid on (February 12, 2010, 0:20 GMT)

"It must be a joke" was what I thought when Allan Donald first came up with the idea to legalize ball tempering but no there are more of them. But anyways, just for amusement, I would like to hear mr. Samir's suggestion that how will like the laws to be mended. Is it where spherical shape of the bell is kept intact, no external tools allowed, but only use of spikes, nails and teeth are allowed. Or there should be a specific sandpaper kept in umpires pocket. Imaginations can be unlimited. BUT Samir couldn't we find some other ways to bring a parity between a bowler and a batsman.

Posted by kazi on (February 11, 2010, 22:20 GMT)

Very easy to enforce. Umpires change the ball as soon as it has lost shape and charge the offending 90% of match fees if umpire change the ball. Legalize ball tampering and give more power to umpires

Posted by Henry on (February 11, 2010, 18:10 GMT)

isn't swing more about the seam than the surface of the ball. I play indoor cricket with a ball which is rough on both sides and cannot be shined, which swings a long way, presumably due to its proud seam. It is well known that different types of ball swing more than others. The ones which swing more should be used. I agree that it is better to focus on the ball than the pitch, although some test pitches could definitely be made a little more 'sporting'.

Posted by Naresh on (February 11, 2010, 10:58 GMT)

You don't seem to acknowledge the fact that this "legalization" of ball-tampering cannot possibly result in a smooth and straightforward transition of the game into what you think would be a "fairer" contest between batsman and bowler.

Consider the great difficulty in determining precisely where to draw the line (you will agree that there must be a line - bringing a toolbox out to the field if allowed may indeed combat the batsmen's "domination" of the game, but probably works best when the ball deformed so far from its spherical shape that it ceases to be a ball). There is a currently a line (on one side of which falls only the use of sweat and spit), and it is particularly convenient because it is easiest to enforce.

Any "legalizing" legislation would need to carefully specify what materials are permitted on the field, in what quantities and how exactly they can be used; further, there is little precedent to help with this process (eg would vaseline be okay but not bottle caps?)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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