February 6, 2010

Give Afridi a break

Ball-tampering is not the heinous crime it is being made out to be; it's time it had official sanction
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Cricket is a great leveller. Nothing better exemplifies this truism than Shahid Afrid's shocking fall from grace. It took a fleeting moment of madness for him to become the villain of the game. Our hero's stocks are trading at zero today.

The wrath directed at him is understandable. The hardliners can certainly take him anywhere with this - to the cleaners or the gallows. They can push for his ouster from the team. Afridi's act may well have undone years of work towards dispelling the dark shadows of ball-tampering that seem to have hounded Pakistan cricket forever.

But it is also time to remind ourselves that this madness stems from a certain mindset and a background. Afridi comes from an era, a cricketing culture, where ball-tampering is considered a normal cricket activity, the done thing on flat Pakistani pitches - an art form and not a sin. It's been a part of the Pakistan team's standard operating procedure.

All teams have one. The Aussies have been brought up on sledging, and while the rest may see it as uncouth, offensive behaviour that is against the principles of this game, it is appreciated by them as a legitimate weapon to be used against oppositions. England moan when they make a tour of the subcontinent, and maybe this is part of their operating procedure.

Pakistan under the tutelage of Imran Khan learned the value of ''ball keeping''. It was a wonderful science. The instructions were to keep the ball dry; to parent the shiny side and ignore the other, so that the elements, like a dry pitch and bristly outfield, could naturally rough it up. Spinners were constantly asked not to dampen the ball with sweaty palms. The scratching was left to the elder statesmen of the team, but it was a last resort - an act of desperation that its perpetrators did not boast about. Only their sheepish behaviour gave away the story; that the ''hand of God'' had played its part.

Reverse-swinging the ball is certainly an art. And the condition of the ball is only one aspect of it. At times even a well-looked-after ball can behave against its masters' wishes and not bend. Factors like breeze and cloud are needed to aid the process. Most important in the process of reverse swing is the bowler's craft: the speed of the ball, the angle of the arm, the wrist position, the length of the delivery - these are what produce the magic.

If ball-tampering is being openly admitted by the players, and given that it is difficult to assign reasons for why reverse swing happens (since even tampering is often ineffective in generating reverse swing), shouldn't the authorities stop looking at the practice with suspicion?

Calling ball-tampering unlawful and an offence is regrettable. If ball-tampering is being openly admitted by the players, and given that it is difficult to assign reasons for why reverse swing happens (since even tampering is often ineffective in generating reverse swing), shouldn't the authorities stop looking at the practice with suspicion and instead look to bring it into the cricket syllabus so that we can all move on? It will challenge a batsman's technique and will improve the standard of competition. Test cricket in the subcontinent on dead pitches will perhaps not be boring to watch anymore.

As long as there is imbalance between bat and ball, there exists a possibility, a risk, of someone playing God and attempting to bridge the gap between the two. Bowlers have been dealt a rough hand by the administrators. Flat pitches, thick bats, short boundaries, limits on bouncers, free hit and Powerplays are just a few things that have neutralised bowlers. Is it not wrong that a game that preaches equality and fair play has confined bowlers to the status of inferiors in a master-servant relationship with the batsmen?

Offspinners were forced to revolt against the unjust system, and they created the doosra, which has managed to bring a semblance of balance to a skewed relationship and also reinvented a dying art. Some would say bowling the doosra is tantamount to chucking; others view it as a justified mutiny against the lop-sided rules bowlers operate under. The managers of the game need to understand that a six may bring momentary pleasure, but the fall of a wicket is, and will always be, the ultimate high in cricket.

So give Afridi a break. He may not have played this one by the book but he certainly did read from the book of his predecessors. And he was forced to play God.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Aahd on February 7, 2010, 9:36 GMT

    Not sure what Ramiz tried to prove here...is Afridi innocent? or is cheating condoned? I am a Pakistani and I a dedicated cricket enthusiast who watches cricket these days only because of the likes of Afridi, Umar Akmal and Aamir. Still, if you are saying Afridi was justified in gnawing a cricket ball, I would suggest the mental assylum visit that Afridi deserves here. He insulted his fans with his actions, he insulted the game and he insulted common sense as well. I don't feel like watching these guys play in the near future. Afridi isn't the only guy who ever tempered with the ball, yes. Thats a given, we know Artherton did it when he was the captain too but I don't reckon anyone has ever been this shameless about cheating before. Afridi WANTED to be caught on camera, he WANTED to shame his nation...I just wonder how much he made for it because the action wasn't going to get him reverse swing in a lifetime worth of bites...

  • Bagapath on February 7, 2010, 8:22 GMT

    funny article by ramiz raja. never realized he had such a whacky sense of humor hidden behind his boring batting and equally boring commentary. bravo! my two bit suggestion is to manufacture cricket balls in different meat flavors or toffee flavors and make ball eating very interesting.

  • Jazyt69 on February 7, 2010, 7:49 GMT

    Hmm,

    So according to Ramiz Pakistan cheat regularly in cricket, thenif this was the case then why did Inzaman-Ul-Haq get upset when his team where called for cheating?

    I remember the uproar,meetings, legal cases, call for blood, umpires being forced to retire, etc....

    Where is the uproar now when an ex test player say's it is done all the time by pakistan???

  • asfandyar_pakipower on February 7, 2010, 7:23 GMT

    i really admire ramiz raja's understanding of the game and the knowledge of the pakistani players he is absoloutely rtigh that ...ball temepering isnt the issue afridi is the best available choice for pakistan and if they skip him to chose another one it will be just like shooting yourself in the foot coz pakistani team really needs some one who knows how to fightand i ve followed enough of boom boom to know what he is capable of and about ball tempering in the recent south africa england series james anderson stood on the ball with his spikes and no one mentioned it at last nasir hussain came up with the article in the daily mail and today adam parore admited they always used diff. objects for ball tempring so please pcb take some brain and retain afridi as a captain and stand with your players rather than doing the oppostie learn something from india and australia how to protect even the criminal acts of the their players.

  • dummy4fb on February 7, 2010, 6:32 GMT

    This is ridiculous and preposterous. Very difficult to put both of these qualities in a single article but Ramiz Raja has done well to manage it. How can someone defend cheating is beyond me. If we accept Mr. Ramiz Raja's view for a moment and think that batters are rich and bowlers are poor then we should allow the poor to cheat & rob the rich people? What are we going to accept next? Legalize robbing and thefts? Why not? After all the poor can't manage to reach the level of rich people so allow a bit of robbing. Its okay...it'll "bridge the gap". Is that what you are suggesting?

    Mr. Raja, I would humbly advice you not to act demented just because one of your men has been caught cheating on a cricket field in broad day light; and next time think before you put something up.

  • dummy4fb on February 7, 2010, 6:07 GMT

    Poor Old Ramiz, You shall very soon regret writing this article. Saying that Ball tampering is standard procedure in Pakistan is same as saying Pakistanis on cricket field are cheats. Since last 20 years or so they have been somehow trying to defend themselves against ball tampering accuses and now Ramiz has confirmed that.

    Oh Ramiz...what did you do? I hope Imran Khan does not catch you, otherwise you would be dead meat.

  • allstars_XI on February 7, 2010, 4:41 GMT

    SOME PEOPLE JUST DON'T GET IT! Ramiz here is not trying to justify Afridi's actions. He is just giving an opinion about legalizing ball tampering to an extent to make the game more FAIR for the bowlers and fun to watch. By the way, he's not the only with such views. Many cricketers, TV commentators and other officials around the world hold similar views. Even some of the Australian commentators thought that it would be a good idea to legalize this.

    Second, Ramiz did say in this article that Afridi was at fault. This article was not about whether what Afridi did was right or wrong, nor was it in any way justifying Afridi's action, rather it was Ramiz's logical opinion on the science of ball keeping AND I 100% AGREE WITH HIM!!!

  • cool_spectator on February 7, 2010, 3:13 GMT

    @Aussiefan...

    'Innocent Afridi' is only doing what the Aussies do day in and day out.

    Great justification to brand Sachin an average player but if that is the case rest of all the player including Ponting will be very much below average players. I need to remind you that Sachin's average in Australia is above 50 whereas Ponting's average in India on so called flat pitches is 20. Ponting is a bully at home and from 2005 to 2007 he used an illegal bat which gave him advantage. Shane Warne was thrashed by sachin (back to back hunderds in Sharjah) so he said.

    I can see Brett Lee and Matt Hayden 'diplomatically' stating that they are in love with India which all of us know is a big lie. All every one needs is the money including the India cricketers. I think IPL is poison that will ruin the real cricket. Though I enjoy watching it, it is taking away some years of good cricketers like Bond, Flintoff who are interested in playing only in IPL.

  • jaymonj on February 7, 2010, 3:00 GMT

    "Calling ball-tampering unlawful and an offence is regrettable. " - Can't believe this has come from an ex-cricketer who should have known the rules of the game. It will remain unlwaful and an offence as long as the rule remains. You have to play by the rules of the game. Consider another example - A batsman cannot be given out lbw if pitched outside leg, even if the ball is going hit middle stump. Now people might argue this rule must be changed. Fair enough, but you have to go by the rule as long the rule exists.

  • acrazycricketfan on February 7, 2010, 2:20 GMT

    I think cricinfo should not ask people like Rameez to write articles here.It leaves a bad image on the gentleman's game with Rameez's comments.So according to him whatever Pakistan have won till now is just by cheating is it?How can one talk about making illegal thing legal.He shold have known that this article is read by people all over the world not just Pakistanis.Even the IPL franchisees did not take any Pakistani players , maybe they knew something about their cheating even before this rticle....what a shame Rameez...hahahaha

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