Ball-tampering row mars Oval Test

The fourth and final Test took an unsavoury and controversial twist midway through the afternoon session, as the umpires changed the ball after becoming unhappy about how its condition had altered. At the end of the 56th over, bowled by Danish Kaneria, Darrell Hair went over to Billy Doctrove and was seen pointing at the quarter seam. The fourth umpire, Trevor Jesty, then brought out a box of balls and the England batsmen, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood, were allowed to choose the next one to be used, in accordance with the Laws.
Law 42.3 states that in "the event of any fielder changing the condition of the ball unfairly ... the umpires shall award five penalty runs to the batting side." The Law explains that it is "unfair for anyone to rub the ball on the ground for any reason, interfere with any of the seams on the surface of the ball, use any implement, or take any other action whatsoever which is likely to alter the condition of the ball."

The only exceptions to this rule are polishing the ball, removing mud from it and drying a wet ball on a towel. Playing regulation 42.1.2 (b) for this series also says: "In the event that a ball has been interfered with and requires replacement the batsman at the wicket shall choose the replacement ball from a selection of six other balls of various degrees of usage (including a new ball) and of the same brand as in use prior to the contravention."

To confirm that this had been the umpires' decision to change the ball five runs were added to England's total, which umpire Hair signalled by patting his right hand to his left shoulder. Soon afterwards, Bob Woolmer was seen marching towards the match referee's office before returning to the dressing room where he talked to Waqar Younis.

Inzamam-ul-Haq appeared visibly incensed during the ball change and though it isn't clear what was said, Umar Gul was withdrawn from the attack thereafter. The incident caught the commentary team by surprise as well and Rameez Raja, the Pakistan expert on the team, sounded clearly upset. Others, including Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton stressed the hope that the umpires had actually spotted someone in the act of tampering with the ball rather than presuming that marks on the ball indicated that it must have been tampered with. There is no TV footage of anything untoward being done to ball.

This isn't, of course, the first time a ball tampering controversy has disrupted cricket contests between the two countries. Pakistan's victorious tour in 1992 was blighted by a stream of accusations and inferences that they tampered the ball to obtain the reverse swing which ultimately helped them clinch the series.

Before these intriguing moments, Pakistan had struck a third blow when Gul trapped Alastair Cook lbw, breaking an impressive third-wicket stand of 103 with Pietersen. Cook had played with more assurance after lunch while Pietersen had continued with his ultra-aggressive intent. However, the ball was starting to reverse swing and Cook was beaten by an excellent delivery. But that was just the start of the drama.