Mark Nicholas
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Former Hampshire batsman; host of Channel 9's cricket coverage

A little ball-tampering will do cricket good

What's wrong with letting people help get the ball to swing, if they're doing it using natural resources?

Mark Nicholas

October 31, 2013

Comments: 42 | Text size: A | A

Andrew Flintoff eats a sweet during an interruption, England v India, 2nd ODI, Bristol, August 24, 2007
Lozenges? Bring them on © Getty Images

While the national team competes against Pakistan in the Middle East, attention at home turned to an impressive gathering in Johannesburg that recognised and celebrated the achievements of Mark Boucher. The freak eye injury 16 months ago that ended Boucher's career before time has been well documented, and the tribute paid to him last night at the Sandton Sun Hotel was warm and went long into the night. The money raised from a glittering dinner was given to Save the Rhino, a cause that Boucher passionately supports. Increasingly cricketers use their pulling power for needs other than their own, which is a welcome change from the brief period when well rewarded international players transferred the income from testimonial events to their own accounts.

Boucher was among the first to tweet a message of sympathy and respect after the desperately sad news that 32-year-old South African wicketkeeper-batsman Darryn Randall had died from the impact of a cricket ball to his head in a club match in the Eastern Cape last weekend. Doubtless, Boucher has also reflected on his relative fortune at surviving a dangerous cricket accident and his tweet went on to urge others to live their life to the full. Because you just never know.

Though Boucher was the centre of attention at dinner, the shock and nature of Randall's tragedy received a lot of air time. The other subject on everyone's lips was the ridiculous stand-off between Haroon Lorgat, the recently appointed chief executive of Cricket South Africa, and the BCCI, over India's tour to South Africa next month. Historically there is no love lost on either side. Lorgat's time as CEO of the ICC was littered with clashes with the Indians - not least on the subject of the DRS, in which Lorgat unconditionally believes but which N Srinivasan and others vehemently oppose.

Now Lorgat has been stood down from the part of his job that involves dealing with India or the ICC (quite a chunk of it gone then), and is also defending himself from allegations relating to Beckergate. Rumour has it that CSA responded to Indian concern about Lorgat's pending appointment by telling the BCCI that it was not their business to tell CSA who to appoint. To which the BCCI replied: we are not telling you who to appoint. We are telling you who not to appoint.

India were due to play three Tests, seven 50-over games and a couple of T20s, a schedule that has been vastly reduced since Lorgat's move into the South African hot seat, and the realisation that amongst those Tests was No. 200 - the final curtain, as it turns out - for Sachin Tendulkar. We will come to that obstacle in a moment.

Given India's immensely powerful position in world cricket, many South Africans pre-empted the appointment of Lorgat as unwise. Better to massage the great Indian ego than take it on, in other words. Frankly, everyone pays lip service to the BCCI, whether they like to admit it or not. Money talks and India has it spilling from every pore. India are one-day world champions, a top-three Test team, and must-see T20 outfit. They are led by the incomparable MS Dhoni, cricket's most charismatic face. All of which makes them a hit at the box office. There is a price to pay for their appearance, which is as it should be, but commitments should be honoured not reneged upon.

South Africa mourns for the New Year Test in Cape Town, a much-loved tradition that will not take place because of India's refusal to accept the original tour schedule. Instead, the BCCI hurriedly convened two Test matches at home against West Indies and will go to New Zealand in the New Year. South Africa get to fill the little window in between, small beer for the No. 1-ranked team in the world.

The game is about the players and those who pay to watch them, not the administrators. It is scandalous that Cape Town has lost the match and that South African cricket will lose a great deal of money because of it. The job of administration is to act as a conduit between the product, which is the game in whatever format, and its audience. The boardroom is not a place for self-interest, though you would barely believe it in cricket's hugely political marketplace.

South Africa may feel India still owes them after the IPL bail out four years ago. During that period the South African public wrapped its arms around an Indian tournament, while the South African administrators moved mountains to accommodate the complicated needs and responsibilities of the event. Grounds were clean of advertising and sponsorship, and corporate facilities were turned over to Indian guests. The thank you for that is a kick in the teeth now.

Mostly Indian cricket gets it right. The global game feeds from its table in many essential ways. But the duty to a wider responsibility, to the pastoral care that comes with ownership, is too often brushed aside. Surely CSA and the BCCI could have found a way to play three Test matches between the No. 1- and No. 3-ranked teams in the world. After all, England have five Tests at home against India next summer. Can it really be that there is no New Year Test in South Africa because of the spat between the BCCI and Lorgat, and if it is so, how feeble and irresponsible is that? South Africa's sponsors, TV networks and general public deserved better, and India only needed to stay another ten days to provide it.

Back to Tendulkar. It seems right that he should say goodbye to the game in front of his own people. The period in which he has played for his country has coincided with vast changes in its landscape. He has ridden these and the expectation that follows them with astonishing dignity. The quality of his play is less relevant in this particular argument but only the heartless would vote against a final Tendulkar innings being played for, and in front of, the people to whom he means so much. The South African public understood the Tendulkar reason, even if they found it hard to stomach. The stand-off between Lorgat and the BCCI has got them choking into their Castle Lager.


Give them a ball, say to the captain, it is yours for 80 overs to do with as you like but don't expect us to change that ball unless it's clear it came out of the box a funny shape or that the concrete in the stands did the damage

Was Faf du Plessis really not attempting to unfairly manipulate the ball? Of course he was. The footage is clear enough; he was ripping the thing down his zipper. The South Africans must have made a killer defence for one so hard-bitten as David Boon, the match referee, to go easy. Fifty percent of Faf's match fee? What a result. Captains have been suspended for less. Indeed, a Test match at The Oval was abandoned for less: and by less we mean there was no such compelling proof then as there was in Dubai the other day. The Pakistanis have every right to feel a bit aggrieved. Had this been them, hell would have been unleashed. As it was that dreadful day at The Oval in August 2006.

We should not play down the impact of a tampered ball. Rather we should consider celebrating it. I know, I'm flying a kite here but hang on a minute. Two recent columns in these pages by Ian Chappell and V Ramnarayan eloquently highlighted the challenges the game faces as bats get more powerful and boundaries become shorter. The poor old bowler has very little left in his favour, while the game continues to allow batsmen all they desire and bowlers next to nothing.

It cannot be too complicated to limit the weight of the bat, the depth of its face and the density of its wood. Moisture content may be hard to regulate against but not size, surely. Equally, why is there not a minimum boundary distance for international cricket? Seventy yards, say, to start the debate. If a ground cannot sustain the necessary boundaries, it cannot be suitable for the best and strongest players.

Cricket's history has numerous examples of legislation against bowlers. But always the game has managed to rebalance itself. For example, this happened with throwing and the 15-degree tolerance in a bent elbow; as it has happened with spinners who lost something from uniform pitches but gained something from the DRS.

The swinging ball is one of cricket's greatest attractions. Bowlers have more ways in which to take wickets; batsmen are encouraged into a wider range of strokeplay by the required fulller length, and more fielders are thus brought into play.

To make the ball swing after the shine has worn off, you have to work on it. The time-honoured tradition is of saliva helping to polish one side, but of course, the seam-pickers and sun-block users, sweet- and lozenge spreaders and half-seam lifters have always been there, hidden away in the closet. Allow them out, I proffer. Legalise tampering by natural resource. Outlaw outside agents - bottle tops, stones, coins, pen-knives, zips and the like - but allow that mix of sweat and sun-cream, that raised seam and that torn leather to be at the fielding side's behest. Give them a ball, say to the captain, it is yours for 80 overs to do with as you like but don't expect us to change that ball unless it's clear it came out of the box a funny shape or that the concrete in the stands did the damage.

And even with that massive change in the laws, Faf would be on the wrong side of them!

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

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Posted by   on (November 2, 2013, 5:54 GMT)

this is going to further complicate things. lets run things the old fashioned way.

Posted by SarfBD on (November 1, 2013, 20:23 GMT)

I disagree because there is no certain limit of 'little bit'. If you allow those so called natural resources then the game might depend on who used the most efficient substance. A coach's laptop may contain the chemical composition of these materials, their proper use or, in most hilarious case, we might find a 'tempering expert' in the team. Come on! Let the game live in the proper way. All we need to go back to the old days. Allow polishing the ball only with saliva and sweat. Proper dimension of field, one new ball, no field restriction, no or maximum 15 overs powerpaly at the beginning of the innings like before, good pitches; these are needed. Glory day of ODI didn't have those silly rule. And, for god's sake, don't mess with test. Do what ever you want with t20.

Posted by CricketChat on (November 1, 2013, 15:07 GMT)

The main reason bowlers resorting to deliberate tampering is due to unhelpful pitches. The solution is to make the pitches that give both bowlers and batsmen equal chance to succeed and ensure a good contest. Intentional ball tampering should be disallowed. In baseball, the moment a foul ball hits the ground, it is immediately changed, even if it was used for a single throw.

Posted by shillingsworth on (November 1, 2013, 14:30 GMT)

@bohurupi - The idea has been around for years because it's a good one and as such it's always worth restating. There really is nothing more to see here.

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (November 1, 2013, 13:19 GMT)

@TheOnlyEmperor, the current bat standards to not take into account modern tehniques, while overall weight is the same, the density of the wood has increased, if you compared Boycott/Gavaskars bats with those of KP/SRT you would see big difference.

In regards to the ball there are 3 standard balls, Duke (England), SG (India), and Kookuburra (Aus), each one has its own peculiarites, the only similarity is its overall wieght.

Posted by roarster on (November 1, 2013, 10:29 GMT)

I can only assume that the manufacturers of the offending britches had been instructed to put zips on the pocket as no cricket clothing designer would think it a good idea otherwise. I'm thinking that a zipper on a cricket slack would be rather uncomfortable to dive/slide/land on (particularly for such an exuberant fielding side who relish chucking themselves about). The only benefit, I can imagine of a zip on the pocket of your whites would be that which Faf exercised.

Posted by VB_Says on (November 1, 2013, 9:41 GMT)

I am surprised with this article's basic argument. Firstly, Mark agrees that using any means other than saliva & sweat to work on the ball is "tampering". And then he says it is ok to do it. Well that is ridiculous!!! I would rather agree to do away with limited legal bouncers rule and also give little margin for on-side wides. I agree with Mark to set a minimum boundary distance norm. The 80-over new ball rule can also be modified to favor bowlers. This would ensure a fair & interesting contest between batsmen and bowlers.

Posted by Unomaas on (November 1, 2013, 9:24 GMT)

And yet, if you compare the amount of result orientated test matches in the last decade, you would find that its higher than ever before. You'll also notice that the last 20 years has seen the greatest amount of innovation when it comes to bowling.

Want to make bowlers more competitive? Implement laws to make cricket pitches bowler centric with substantial fines leveled at groundsmen/cricket boards that produce roads (as seen in the recent India series).

Posted by Prasanna_310 on (November 1, 2013, 7:47 GMT)

You don't have to create any further rules, just make sure the ball tampering is not considered sin, but is illegal. and make rules that cricketers use all in their might to tamper the ball, but if found, either deduct runs of their first 5overs or so, or send give offender red card. The opponent captain having right to choose either of the two punishment. MAKE SURE no the rules are applied in the match,and course of game can change. Not match fees and next match suspensions. It will be much like a students exam, if he is caught his exam is cancelled if not enjoy cheating because we know you cheat no matter the rules. But no funny rules like suspend next match and so on..

Posted by afzal501 on (November 1, 2013, 7:33 GMT)

Would everyone be saying the samething about relaxing the rules on ball tempering and allowing bowlers to temper with the ball, if last week the team caught tempering with the ball was not southafrica but instead it was pakistan, I dont think so.

Posted by bul98 on (November 1, 2013, 2:23 GMT)

If it was someone from PAK team then I bet we would be reading a different article!

Posted by ozone8237 on (November 1, 2013, 1:17 GMT)

Related to my Last comment.... Mr. Nicholas! I have a Solution, that way we can have a control of the shape of the ball in the hands of the bowling captain and still be Legal:

* Right from the very first ball the fielding captain can ask the umpire to provide him with a ball that is brand new, 5-10 overs-used or 20-30 overs or 40-45 over-used the number of overs usage can be further discussed and the number of times the request can be made can also be discussed in order to better implement the rule.

* ICC cannot give the authority to change the shape of the ball in terms of Ball Tampering, in the hands of the fielding side. I believe this might be a solution which could be discussed further and Implemented right away. Thanks

Posted by Greatest_Game on (November 1, 2013, 0:54 GMT)

@ aahahaa. Bowlers CANNOT bowl without some degree of flex. Quicks have more flex than spinners. After testing, it turned out that Brett Lee was the biggest chucker of the lot. Without the 15 degree rule there would be NO cricket - every ball bowled would be illegal. 15 degrees was decided on because that is about the minimum the human eye can perceive - i.e. umps can't see flex below 15 degrees. The law was not changed to suit bowlers: the law was changed to reflex t reality. That's it mate - the reality of bowling.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (November 1, 2013, 0:47 GMT)

@ Girish Chandra Mamgai wrote "i think they should start using the folding pitches and bowling machines as there is nothing in the pitches to offer the bowlers. Atleast after using bowling machines they will not feel embarrassed."

Go and watch some cricket in South Africa, mate - the last country on earth that still hast fast, bouncy pitches, and bowlers who can use them!

Posted by Dadu786 on (October 31, 2013, 22:25 GMT)

Quality bowlers and quality bowling don't need those tactics, look at India vs Australia ODI on Oct 30th, bowlers went for 701 runs while quality bowling contest between South Africa and Pakistan ODI total was 365 on same day.

Posted by NAP73 on (October 31, 2013, 21:50 GMT)

I guess it could help economies by allowing for innovation in trouser zips etc. to hasten the tempering...

Posted by Cricketfan11111 on (October 31, 2013, 20:39 GMT)

To polish the ball there are dos and don'ts. To rough up the ball to aid reverse swing new rules should be introduced about what is acceptable and what is not. The only rule so far about reverse swing is to punish ball tampering as if it is a crime to reverse swing the ball. Reverse swinging ball is a same tool as a conventional swinging ball for a bowler. So why are they treated differently?

Posted by 2929paul on (October 31, 2013, 19:21 GMT)

Why not just give the bowlers a better ball to bowl with in the first place? One with a prouder seam, that stays harder for longer and therefore favours seamers longer into the innings without having to tamper with it (providing it is well maintained within the currently legal constraints). Only in England is there a ball that the seamers can actually do anything with conventionally after the 20th over and then they have to have the right conditions and the appropriate skills. By over 45 there might be some reverse swing if the ground is hard enough to scuff up the ball (or it has been tampered with!!) but variable weather and pitch conditions might mean it's a batsman's paradise or a spinner's wicket.

Posted by bohurupi on (October 31, 2013, 17:17 GMT)

Interesting! Had this or similar article would have come to light if instead of Fab du Plessis, let's say Shahid Afridi or any of his team mates would have done the same thing? just curious!

Posted by Selassie-I on (October 31, 2013, 15:57 GMT)

Couldn't agree more Mark, the fast bowler has nothing going for him these days, easily the reason these is so few really good ones about. Batsmen have all the padding in the world, big bats and small boundries, Spinners have the ability to chuck and the DRS basically taking away the option to pad away from the batsman and fast bowlers have been given nothing - let's allow them to have a good old scratch at the ball and get it reversing.

For me there is no better sight in cricket than a fast bowler moving the ball about fighting with a classy batsman, runs should be hard to score, 100's should be golden. It would also help to reduce the amount of drawn games.

Posted by   on (October 31, 2013, 15:17 GMT)

entirely agree regarding so-called ball-tampering. However, I wouldn't let the fielders change the ball because it was damaged by the concrete of the stands - if they're bowling the sort of dross that's getting the ball damaged beyond the boundary then that is tough innit...

Posted by   on (October 31, 2013, 14:40 GMT)

Sensible comments. About time someone acknowledged that some ball tampering is necessary otherwise it makes for some very dull games. Rather than everyone running to the moral high ground to condemn anyone who ball tampers.

Posted by on (October 31, 2013, 14:19 GMT)

new rules and these dead pitches is an insult to cricket itself , should prepare more bowler friendly pitches everywhere , also on a separate topic BCCI and CSA could have done better than a 2 test match series ! N Srinivasan keeps saying he is a test match lover , and this is what he offers Indian cricket fans , what a joke

Posted by Gevelsis on (October 31, 2013, 13:16 GMT)

Thank you Mark, this is the only sensible thing to do. Bats nowadays are ridiculously powerful and the bowlers stand no chance. T20 pitches are being prepared for ODI matches, batsmen can hit through the line with complete confidence. Right now there is a generation of young bowlers in India who are beginning to realise that the best they hope for is to become cannon fodder as far as the short form goes. But will anybody do anything?

Posted by Speng on (October 31, 2013, 12:58 GMT)

If you are able to maintain the shine of a ball by polishing it etc I don't see why you should be able to rough it up with a bit of dirt in the hands etc. Maybe I don't understand what "picking the seams" means either but I never thought there was anything wrong with that - simple ball maintenance. However the 90s saw ball maintenance taken too far when bowlers from various countries started making use of various hair products that had no place on a cricket pitch: wax pomades, jerri curls, various hair oils the tonsorial unguents were dripping from the scalps of all and sundry (not picking out any particular country). The bowlers did make the ball talk so I do agree with premise of the article: if we have two new balls in ODIs and universally covered pitches the bowlers need some help.

Posted by aahahaa on (October 31, 2013, 11:57 GMT)

ban helmets. lets then see who comes down the pitch to hit Mitch or for that matter even McKay. point is, from the 70s and 80s, the bats have improved, pitches gone flat in most parts, boundaries have become shorter, assortment of guards have been invented to protect the batsmen, restriction on bouncers, field restrictions, leg side wide etc,, now the game is also about bowlers. as far as i can remember there has only been the "15 degree flex" rule (which imo leads to chucking, which is morally cheating) in favor of the bowlers. restore the balance before it becomes too late.

Posted by   on (October 31, 2013, 11:14 GMT)

Interestingly, while T20 and ODI scores are climbing I think that test scores, especially 1st innings, in general are declining. This is with the renaissance of swing and especially, DRS assisted, spin bowling in tests with pitches that are conducive to both. For ODIs/T20s, there are no catchers behind the wicket for swing to be effective.

Posted by   on (October 31, 2013, 10:55 GMT)

Mmmm, there's something in that suggestion about ball-tampering. Spinners used to rub them on the worn pitch to get rid of the shine - and why not?

Posted by   on (October 31, 2013, 10:48 GMT)

Agree completely! Let the fielding team use their hands on the ball. Nothing else. And be very strict on over rates to ensure we don't see delays.

Posted by   on (October 31, 2013, 9:54 GMT)

i think they should start using the folding pitches and bowling machines as there is nothing in the pitches to offer the bowlers. Atleast after using bowling machines they will not feel embarassed.

Posted by   on (October 31, 2013, 9:51 GMT)

Time to give something back to the bowlers. I feels for them. As they are one who are at the receiving end, always. It is rightly said by someone if you don't want to give anything to bowlers, then do away with them. Bring a bowling machine and start pounding runs may be like 400, 500 or so on. At least bowlers wouldn't feel embarrassed.

If we look back at the current Ind-Aus series, has anybody seen bowl turning even a single bit. Its not the fault of indian bowlers or the aussies for that matter. Both sides had conceded runs in excess of 300. It is the pitch which is the real culprit. The real test will always remain the test cricket.

There you will see the real talent and guts of a batsman and that's why the batsmen who have succedded in the test match are always considered the best.

Posted by   on (October 31, 2013, 9:29 GMT)

The two new balls in ODI's has killed natural reverse swing and the role of spinner who cant grip a newer ball. ball tampering is illegal and it should remain this way. To get a balance between bat and ball boundaries should be adequate. But the main problem lies in docile pitches and fielding restrictions. the other thing is the number of matches played by each country. ICC should be the one making itineraries and why on earth we have two test matches and call it a series

Posted by TheOnlyEmperor on (October 31, 2013, 9:00 GMT)

Since there are a number of small cricket grounds in many countries, the definition of sixes can be redefined to mean that the ball should go completely out of the play area (wherever the ground dimensions are smaller than 75metres) and into the stands. The boundary in such small grounds would therefore the entire available green of the ground. Another way of making the match interesting for play in the smaller grounds is to specify the length of the grass, so that the ball speed is moderate and a simple push doesn't take the ball to the boundary. This would give even greater confidence to the fielders to dive around. Of course, such grounds will not have the benefit of day-night matches, where the dew in the grass may 'tamper' the ball and make the match unfavorable to the team bowling second.

Posted by jackiethepen on (October 31, 2013, 7:56 GMT)

Why not start by changing flat batting pitches? And then continue with challenging the short term business approach to cricket that every game should mimic t20 to be "entertaining"? Commentator Mark Butcher's enthusiasm for the latest ODI in India was not shared by captain Dhoni even though India won the chase. Dhoni was more of the mindset of "where will it end?" He has the sense to see that t20 style cricket on flat pitches has diminishing returns. Better to have a balance between bat and ball on the wicket itself rather than encourage players to cheat to achieve that balance. While we have this demand for fours and sixes from the dumbing down of cricket by our media, then the game will have frustrated bowlers. We are losing the complexities of cricket. It is exciting to watch passages of play of the battle between bat and ball not just 'world record' meaningless boundaries.

Posted by   on (October 31, 2013, 7:52 GMT)

Waqas: Even if the bowler bowls the right length, bats have become so powerful and boundaries have gotten shorter that mishits of a good ball have sailed over the fence for sixers.

Posted by aditya.pidaparthy on (October 31, 2013, 7:48 GMT)

An easy way to regulate the bat dimensions would be to first decide on the maximum allowable dimensions (length, width, thickness of edge and the meat of the bat) and then create a hollow case of that dimension. Whenever the umpires think a bat might be suspect, just put it in the case and try to close the case, if it closes correctly, the bat is within the limits, else it is illegal and the batsman should be made to change. Or the fourth umpire can check the bat size before a batsman goes out. Would hardly take 15 seconds per bat. Somewhat similar to how the shape of the ball is checked with rings the umpires carry.

Posted by tamperbay on (October 31, 2013, 6:17 GMT)

How about we first get out on the table, all the ball tampering methods that are presently known about (including the Afridi bite - which would be allowed under Mr Nicholas' idea), and then we can discuss the merits of each one individually. For me that would be very very interesting indeed! There must be some devious ones out there that have been used and are probably being used at present and going undetected. Or would that be unveiling the winged keel of each team. I'd LOVE to know how the English got the ball to reverse so dramatically within 20 overs during the 2005 ashes - "the greatest series ever". It can't have been just the lozenges. At one stage in that series I noted Ponting with a massive sized bulge in his cheek and I gathered that he was desperately trying to find a way to get the same reverse swing the English were. On that note, I wonder if we will see the professional fielder appearing throughout the upcoming ashes series.

Posted by   on (October 31, 2013, 5:40 GMT)

I loved the article, and yesterday I was watching the Ind-Aus match, being an India I loved the fact that India won, more so loved the fact that India has chased two 350+ scores in this series, but that game was like the Mohali curator was heard saying vulgar...!

I partially agree with what Waqas has said about bowlers finding the right lengths, but the game has become more and more unfair to the bowlers.

For the first time I feel that the game of cricket is degenerating, with the competition being limited to which team has more pounding power, probably that is why the charm of Test cricket is being highlighted more so these days. Indian victories in this series is ironical more so because, this is the same Indian side which hasn't managed to score 400+ runs/ innings in test matches consistently in India or abroad.


Posted by kdevil3 on (October 31, 2013, 5:03 GMT)

Then y dont manufacture & spin ball & swing ball different...and use it. Test cricket is at its best no

Posted by   on (October 31, 2013, 4:03 GMT)

Magnificient article Love the way you do your commentary Sir, and Loved the Article.. Very well written

Just one thing.. if you legitimize ball "Management" so to say, at what point do you stop then. I think it is correct that the Bats are getting bigger and boundaries shorter, But still the art of finding the correct lengths and bowling at the death overs remains the same. Its still a gentleman's game and any unfair means to alter the playing conditions would be frowned upon.

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Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

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