1992 September 25, 2010

An establishment fudge

Eighteen years ago a series between England and Pakistan finished amid scenes of acrimony, fuelled by the incompetence of the TCCB and the ICC

"As far as Pakistan are concerned, cricket in England is run by arrogant racists. As far as England are concerned, Pakistan cheat. Today, the two countries are as far apart as ever."

Martin Johnson's comments in the Independent might have been written in the aftermath of the just-concluded series between the two countries, which neither could wait to see the end of. In fact, they came at the end of an equally controversial summer back in 1992, which - as seems possible now - ended up in writs and court cases.

In 2010 the issue that stirred up so much vitriol was betting. In 1992 it was accusations of ball-tampering.

In 1991 several Pakistan players had made a significant impact in county cricket. Wasim Akram (Lancashire), Waqar Younis (Surrey) and Aqib Javed (Hampshire) had all bowled with tremendous success, but there had been reports lodged with the Test & County Cricket Board (the forerunners of the ECB) about possible ball-tampering. Nothing was ever proved and no action taken, but the rumours were there on the county circuit.

What was fuelling them was the hitherto unknown concept of reverse swing. Rather than being angered, most county bowlers were intrigued as to how it was achieved. Players using less-than-legal methods to affect the condition of the ball had been an unwelcome feature of the game in all countries for a long time, and many jumped to the conclusion there must be something untoward happening.

There was more than a passing element of jealousy. The brilliance of Wasim and Waqar was undoubted and those who tried to copy them failed because they were not good enough. "These men would not have been emulated by other bowlers of their own and other nationalities if only they had possessed the necessary skill," wrote Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Aside from a spat between Aqib and umpire Roy Palmer at Old Trafford, the five-Test summer passed without any major incidents, although England manager Micky Stewart alluded to skulduggery on the part of Pakistan's bowlers when he said, after yet another dramatic middle-order collapse by his side: "I know how they do it, but I won't comment on whether it's fair or unfair."

The one-day series was played either side of the Tests, with two matches in May and the next three in late August. By the time the sides reached Lord's on August 22, England had an unassailable 3-0 lead over the team who had beaten them in the World Cup final the previous March.

The match at Lord's was marred by wet weather and spilled into a second day. England, set 205 to win, were 140 for 5 at lunch when the umpires - Ken Palmer and John Hampshire - after consultation with Don Oslear, the third umpire, ordered the ball to be changed under Law 42, which deals with the condition of the ball. As it happened, Waqar and Wasim blew away England's tail with the replacement ball, the last four wickets falling for 10 runs to hand Pakistan a four-run victory.

"[The umpires] entered the umpires' dressing room at Lord's and showed me the ball, with its badly-gouged surface," Oslear later wrote. "They asked me to fetch the international referee, Deryck Murray. To begin with, Murray agreed that the cover of the ball appeared to have been slit, possibly with a thumb-nail, possibly with some other instrument. Intikhab Alam, the Pakistan team manager, was summoned and he made no objection when the umpires told him they were going to change the ball. I next showed it to Alan Smith, the TCCB's chief executive, who expressed horror at its state.

"Gradually the ramifications of the incident began to dawn on the officials," Oslear continued, "and the first step in the attempt to disguise the truth came when it was suggested that the media should be informed the ball had been changed because it had gone out of shape.

"I made it quite clear on behalf of my colleagues, who by this time had returned to the middle, that I could not accept that and said it would be better in the long run if the truth were told. By now, I was aware that a lot of pressure was being exerted on top officials. I believe some of it was at the highest diplomatic level, since to say Pakistan had broken the rules would undoubtedly lead to them being called cheats in the press and nobody wanted to contemplate what the consequences might be."

The TCCB's decision turned a difficult situation into a shambolic one as it decided to admit the ball had been changed but not to reveal why. Nobody from England attended the post-match press conference, and the TCCB and ICC both refused to offer anyone up either. When asked, Waqar simply shrugged and said: "I don't care what anyone thinks... the new ball swung more anyway. Every time we win people start saying these things. We won fair and square."

The only official statement came from Pakistan's tour manager, Khalid Mahmood. "An impression has been created in certain sections of the press that the change of ball was due to tampering by the fielding side," he said. "It is clarified that such insinuations are a distortion of the facts and are totally unfounded and speculative in nature. Such press stories represent a false and scurrilous attack on the integrity, conduct and reputation of the Pakistan cricket team, which is unjustifiable." Mahmood later claimed Pakistan had twice asked for the ball to be replaced before lunch as it had gone out of shape.

Oslear, meanwhile, wrote a detailed report and submitted it to the authorities. The following week he was telephoned by Sir Colin Cowdrey, the chairman of the ICC, who pointedly reminded him he was bound to silence by the terms of his contract. There it might have ended had Oslear not been called as a witness in subsequent court cases.

Lt Col John Stephenson, at the time the ICC secretary, claimed two years later that he had been pressured by members of the Pakistan management not to say anything. The TCCB steadfastly refused to allow anyone to see either the ball, which it possessed under lock and key, or the contemporaneous umpires' report. When former Pakistan fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz sued Allan Lamb in 1994, Lamb's lawyer accused the TCCB of putting pressure on those involved to not appear as witnesses. "I know great efforts were made to get those subpoenas removed," he said.

If the TCCB believed by saying nothing the whole problem would go away, it was hopelessly out of touch. By closing ranks, it ensured weeks of wild and often baseless speculation, which exposed Pakistan's players to quite unnecessary abuse.

Lamb had also been asked not to speak out, but, so he later claimed, Khalid's statement angered him, and he was tipped over the edge when it became clear the TCCB was not going to reveal anything. Three days later Lamb spoke to the Daily Mirror in a front-page story headlined: "How Pakistan Cheat at Cricket".

But the wall of silence was equally resented in the Pakistan camp. "What really fanned the flames was the reaction afterwards of… Murray," said Wasim. "He refused to make any comment and that gave our detractors an open goal to aim at."

The TCCB immediately suspended Lamb for breaching his contract and subsequently fined him £5000. On the same day it fined Surrey £1000 for ball-tampering in a County Championship match. "We are left with the conclusion that talking to newspapers is a deadlier sin that cheating in the County Championship," Donald Saunders observed in the Daily Telegraph.

And there the matter lay. To this day, the authorities have not made the ball or report public and nobody was formally charged or even warned for events at Lord's in 1992, nor formally given a chance to put their side of the story. It remains a classic example of the establishment closing ranks.

"[The ICC's] appointed officers chose to remain silent, inviting the worst and most prolonged form of speculation," Alan Lee wrote in the Times. "It was a silence which spoke of fear and weakness, provoked by the belief that Pakistan would either take legal action or abort the tour."

Wisden was equally critical. "In the darkness, further seeds of mistrust and animosity were sown for the future."

And a last word from Oslear. "The guardians of the game should stand for honesty of purpose and truth on and off the field, but given the unwillingness to openly tackle the many problems cricket faces one can only question the probity of some of those paid servants, whose only answer seems to be to sweep it all under the carpet."

What happened next

  • England and Pakistan did not play a series against each other for four years. When they did it was against the backdrop of a court case brought by Ian Botham and Lamb against Imran Khan which they lost.
  • Lamb was sued by Sarfraz over claims he had tampered with the ball. The case was withdrawn, with Sarfraz claiming "there were nine young girls on the jury who did not know the difference between a football and a cricket ball".
  • Oslear finished umpiring at the end of 1993, insisting the TCCB forced him to retire by changing the rules relating to age limits for umpires.
  • Lamb did not play again for England after the 1992 season

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo