England v South Africa, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 5th day January 7, 2010

Strauss brands tampering claims 'malicious'

Andrew Strauss has branded South Africa "malicious" for the manner in which they raised their "concerns" over the state of the ball during the third Test at Newlands. The controversy began on the third day after TV pictures showed Stuart Broad stepping on the ball and subsequent images also threw the spotlight on James Anderson.

"We're not particularly happy about it, and I strongly refute those allegations," Strauss said. "I do think to a certain extent that the South Africans announcing it to the media - without being totally clear in their minds what they were going to do, whether they were going to put in a formal complaint - is a little bit malicious.

"Ball-tampering is a very sensitive subject and if you're going to make allegations, you've got to be very clear or confident that is exactly what the other team were doing."

South Africa raised their concerns on the third evening with the ICC match referee, Roshan Mahanama, but they declined to lodge an complaint official the following morning and left the matter in the hands of Mahanama. He and the on-field umpires, Daryl Harper and Tony Hill, decided no further action was needed and the ICC later said the matter was closed.

But on Wednesday evening AB de Villiers came out with some hard-hitting remarks, claiming that England had been "a little bit naughty" in how they treated the ball and adding that the matter should be looked into further.

"I really don't feel there was any concerted effort on anybody's part to alter the state of the ball," Strauss said. "I appreciate that some of that footage didn't look amazingly good. But I don't think it was anything that was malicious, particularly.

"What Stuart Broad did there is not something you'd do if you wanted to alter the shape of the ball - because, just as easily, your stud could go in the shiny side and ruin your chances of swinging the ball. At no stage did the umpires feel they had any concerns about the state of the ball. I'm very comfortable with our actions."

However, Strauss did admit that his team would have to be extra careful in the future and confirmed the umpires had spoken to him before the afternoon session on the third day. "If the spotlight is on you, we've got to be very careful that we are beyond suspicion," he said.

"The umpires said there had been some TV pictures but they hadn't seen anything themselves. It's always a bit of a shame when these things rear their head, and we'll be making sure that something like this doesn't happen again."

The thrilling end to the Test, as Graham Onions and Graeme Swann survived the final 17 balls to secure a draw, ensured the ball-tampering issue wasn't top of the agenda after the match but it is sure to fester in the build-up to the final Test in Johannesburg as South Africa aim to level the series.

"Towards the back-end of a series, emotions start running a little bit high. That's understandable," Strauss said. "I hope today has gone some way to making sure the game of cricket is the main story."

His opposite number, Graeme Smith, didn't expand on his team's earlier concerns about the ball and aimed to calm any tensions by insisting the series is being played in the right spirit.

"The series is competitive and is being played in a hard way, but I have no doubt that when it is finished there will be a beer shared," he said. "That's the way cricket is played today and it's the way I like my team to play the game. I don't see any off-field tensions. It's pretty tough on the field and that's the way people want to have it."

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo