Chris Pringle: 'We practised long and hard in the nets and were quite excited about the results we were getting with it'
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The thorny subject of ball tampering has stalked the game for many years, but it is only in the last couple of decades that it has become something a wider audience has been aware of. Arguably, it has been going on since cricket's earliest days, but invasive TV coverage and the media's appetite for controversy has brought it to the surface.
One of the most bizarre - and blatant - instances of ball tampering occurred during New Zealand's tour of Pakistan in the autumn of 1990. From the off, New Zealand expressed deep reservations about the way that the Pakistan bowlers got the ball to reverse swing, and the appearance of the ball. Most dismissed this as sour grapes as the tour had been in trouble before it started. Several leading New Zealanders opted out of making the trip, leading to Imran Khan also absenting himself after protesting at what he believed would be a "mismatch". And then when the Pakistan Cricket Board suggested appointing neutral umpires, Martin Crowe, New Zealand's captain, said that it had to be "better than having two Pakistani umpires". Unsurprisingly, the PCB did an about-turn and dropped the plan.
In the opening Test at Karachi, New Zealand were twice bowled out for under 200 as Pakistan, thanks to 203 from Shoaib Mohammad, won by an innings.
In the second Test at Lahore, Martin Crowe remembered that he encountered reverse-swing for the first time on his way to a second-innings hundred. "Six supposed outswingers [from Wasim Akram] suddenly became six lethal inswingers. I had never seen it before and I became curious." During the innings, Crowe dropped a delivery from Abdul Qadir at his feet and bent down to pick it up and lob it back to the bowler. "It was totally mutilated on one side with two or three deep scratches gouged out," he said. "I complained to the umpires but they did nothing."
Later in the day the ball went out of shape and was changed. As it was thrown to the boundary by the umpires, Willie Watson and Mark Priest rushed to intercept it. "It bore no resemblance to a cricket ball," Crowe claimed. The pair took it back to the changing-room but, so Crowe noted, Intikhab Alam, the Pakistan manager, came in and took it and it was never seen again.
Ian Taylor, the New Zealand manager, made an official complaint at the end of the match, but it was dismissed with the officials stating that the condition of the ball resulted from a rough outfield and advertising hoardings. "We accepted that Pakistan were the better team," Crowe added, "but we were not going to accept what they were doing with the ball."
Chris Pringle, at the time New Zealand's opening bowler, decided to take the law into his own hands. "There was something going on," he recalled in his autobiography Save The Last Ball For Me. "And whether what I did was the right or wrong way to make the ball look as it did in the next Test, I had to try it."
After another resounding defeat at Lahore, several of the New Zealanders experimented in the nets with scoring one side of an old ball with bottle tops. "With that technique, even guys like Mark Greatbatch and Martin Crowe were swinging the ball miles in the air," Pringle wrote. "We practised long and hard in the nets and were quite excited about the results we were getting with it." Crowe admitted that he ran in to bowl his normal inswingers "only to see the ball curve the other way ... I'd never bowled outswingers in my life!"
On the morning of the first day of the final Test at Faisalabad, Pringle decided to put what he had learned into practice. He found an old bottle top, cut it into quarters, covered the serrated edge with tape, leaving a sharp point exposed. At the first drinks interval the umpires did not ask to look at the ball and, with Pakistan making sedate progress, Pringle started scratching the ball with the bottle top. Pakistan crashed from 35 for 0 to 102 all out. Pringle finished with his Test-best figures of 7 for 52.
"Neither umpire showed any concern or took any notice in what we were doing even though, at the end of the innings, the ball was very scratched," Pringle noted. "One side was shiny but there were lots of grooves and lines and deep gouges on the other side. It was so obvious. It was ripped to shreds ... one side of the ball had been demolished. The umpires were walking across to each other and talking quite a lot. I sensed that they could tell what was going on ... but they didn't want to get involved in anything controversial."
However, while the men in white remained implacable, others were wise to what was happening. Pringle recalled that as he left the stadium after taking his seven wickets on the first day, a local dignitary tapped him on the shoulder and said: "Pringle, it is fair now. Both teams are cheating."
Although the umpires did not check the ball during each session, they did have it during intervals and at the close. And as the game wore on, Pringle became deliberately obvious in an attempt to get a reaction, even gouging the ball as he talked to the umpire. Still nothing was said.
So eagerly was he vandalizing the ball that at one stage he cut himself on the jagged bottle top. Even the sight of a bowler with blood freely flowing from a sliced finger did not cause any disquiet as far as the officials were concerned. Pringle finished with 11 for 152 after taking 2 for 190 in the first two matches, but his efforts could not prevent New Zealand sliding to another defeat and a series whitewash.
To their credit, the Pakistan side refused to be riled by the accusations. Wasim explained that: "Waqar and myself were in good nick and were too good for their batsmen, and the dry conditions were perfect for swing bowling. We felt we could bowl out any team. We had no need to tamper with the ball."
And what about the bottle tops? "It's bullshit," Wasim countered. "It was simply that the New Zealanders couldn't play the moving ball. On Pakistan wickets the ball gets rough automatically on the mud and the sand."
Taylor, however, added fuel to the flames when he said: "I am not sure how they did it ... whether they used fingernails or sandpaper ... I would not be surprised if they used knives." When West Indies arrived shortly after for a tour of their own, Lance Gibbs, their manager, found a letter from Taylor awaiting him in which he warned them to be on the lookout for ball tampering.
An uneasy peace was maintained until the second Test at Faisalabad when Desmond Haynes, the West Indies captain, accused the Pakistan bowlers of tampering. At the same time, back in New Zealand, Warren Lees, the New Zealand coach, went public with his claims that official complaints had been made to umpires and the Pakistan Cricket Board but that no action had been taken.
Nothing was proved against any of the Pakistan side, but sadly it set a precedent for accusations to be thrown at their bowlers right through to today.
Pringle got away with his actions as the Code of Conduct and match referees were still some time away, and he only admitted what he had done when he retired. Could he ever get away with it now? "I wouldn't say it's impossible," he said. "You could still do it but you'd have to get the ball in a bad state anyway so there is no way of proving anything ... and be very aware of the TV cameras. You'd need to be pretty shrewd about it."
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Wisden Cricketers' Almanack Various
Hooked On Opening Chris Pringle (Celebrity Books, 1998)
Out on a Limb: My Own Story Martin Crowe (Reed Publishing, 1995)
Wasim and Waqar - Imran's Inheritors John Crace (Boxtree, 1992)
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo