Ball-tampering in cricket July 24, 2009

ICC should let bowlers 'prepare' the ball - Donald

Allan Donald, the former South African fast bowler, has said bowlers must be allowed to "prepare" the ball - ball-tampering, in other words - to redress the balance between bat and ball and protect the "dying breed" from increasingly lifeless pitches.

Speaking to Cricinfo on Friday, Donald was asked if he would recommend legalising ball tampering. He said: "The ICC would shoot me for saying it but, with the wickets that we play on and the dying breed fast bowlers are becoming on these flatter wickets, I would say we do need some sort of defence mechanism, something to fall back on to say 'Right, we can do this. We can now prepare this ball to go'."

Donald, currently the Warwickshire coach, knows, though, that his plea is likely to fall on deaf ears. "That [legalising ball-tampering] quite simply would never happen," he said.

Ball tampering was a raging issue in the 1990s, a period that coincided with Donald's rise as leader of the South African bowling attack. He agreed that bowlers had altered the condition of the ball in various ways to get prodigious reverse swing. "There is no doubt guys tampered with the ball," he said of the fast bowlers of his time. He recalled one incident in the mid-1990s when he saw a former fast bowler pick a little chunk of leather live on the television during a Test match against England. "The guy was just chipping away with his nails and I couldn't believe how he could get away with it," Donald said. "The commentator, a famous former player, said "Steady on", but he [bowler] denied it later. Let's not kid ourselves, there is no question it still goes on."

To get reverse swing, one must rough one side of the ball while polishing the other. "One [popular] way to do it is to get the ball into the dirt," Donald said, a method easily practised on rough subcontinent surfaces where the ball, especially the white one, soon gets scuffed up. "Even the red ball, in places like India, we found, did not take too long to reverse."

England also used reverse swing to win back the Ashes at home in 2005. "Yes, I remember [Andrew] Flintoff and [Simon] Jones do it beautifully to swing it both ways especially in Old Trafford by chucking the ball into the foothold."

Donald isn't the first fast bowler to make this case; in the mid-1990s, Sir Richard Hadlee had also asked for ball-tampering to be legalised. "As long as the bowlers or fielders use whatever means they have on their persons, I don't see anything wrong with it. I'm talking about the use of a finger nail to scratch the ball, not bottle tops or those sorts of things," Hadlee wrote in a newspaper column at the time.

Donald agreed the best method, if the ICC relented, was to rip the ball without artificial help. "I wouldn't bite it," he said with a chuckle. "One way is if the ball gets scuffed on one side,and there is a tiny little chunk that is missing, you pick it up and just keep that side dry and keep working on it, while shining the other side very heavily without putting any moisture. The whole team needs to keep track of this and should know the ball is reversing and they need to shine one side. The bowler, because he is bowling, should keep his wet hands on this side while keeping the other side dry. That's all you need."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo