'It's illegal, isn't it?'

Former Ashes veterans join the debate as ICC and the ECB stay away for the moment

Nagraj Gollapudi

Marcus Trescothick may be lucky after all as the laws of the game are not precise about ball tampering © Getty Images
Marcus Trescothick's admission that he used mint-induced saliva to keep the shine on the ball during the 2005 Ashes might give his autobiography Coming Back To Me the perfect launch, but it has left him and his Ashes-winning team open to the charge of ball tampering.
Trescothick, who was England's official ball-shiner during the series admitted that he had used Murray Mints to produce a saliva which, "when applied to the ball for cleaning purposes, enabled it to keep its shine for longer and therefore its swing'.'
Damien Fleming, the former Australia swing bowler, is of the opinion that Trescothick's strategy was against the laws of the game. "It is some form of ball tampering, it is not about natural deterioration," he said. "It is illegal, isn't it?"
Fleming told Cricinfo that though he was happy to be a bit more naive and thought it was good bowling, he always felt something was amiss to see the ball reverse-swing in England. "I loved the wrist release of Flintoff, Jones and Harmison, but always felt something was going on as the ball was reversing by the 40th over, especially on a grassy pitches," Fleming said. "You're used to seeing the ball reverse early on the much rougher tracks in the subcontinent where the hard surface makes the ball abrasive easily."
Angus Fraser, the former England medium pace bowler who covered the series for the Independent, wouldn't go as far as to deem the practice illegal, but he believed the disclosure has exposed the hypocrisy that has existed over ball tampering.
According to Fraser, who has been part of the ICC's technical committee, the tactics Trescothick employed to shine the ball has been always popular on the county circuit. "I don't know if it is illegal," he said.
"To me it is a total hypocrisy on what is deemed to be ball tampering. When Pakistan were accused of ball tampering it was built into something that was abhorrent. Ball tampering is ball tampering whether you scratch the ball or whether you deliberately put in sugary saliva on it to aid its shine so I don't see any difference between one and the either.
"There are huge inconsistencies for one side to complain about the other scratching the ball when they are deliberately sucking sugary sweets to shine the ball," he said.
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What Trescothick wrote
  • "I was firmly established as the man in charge of looking after the ball when we were fielding. It was my job to keep the shine on the new ball for as long as possible with a bit of spit and a lot of polish.
  • And through trial and error I finally settled on the best type of spit for the task at hand. It had been common knowledge in county cricket for some time that certain sweets produced saliva which when applied to the ball for cleaning purposes enabled it to keep its shine for longer and therefore its swing.
  • As with most of the great scientific discoveries, this one happened quite by accident.
  • While at Warwickshire, Dermot Reeve noticed that his bowlers somehow had the ability to keep the ball swinging far longer than any team they faced.
  • The problem was no one knew why.
  • He realised the player in charge of polishing and keeping the ball clean was his top-order batsman Asif Din and what he did to keep his concentration levels up was chewing extra strong mints.
  • It took a while for word to get around the circuit but once it did the sales of sweets near the county grounds of England went through the roof.
  • I tried Asif¹s confection of choice but couldn¹t get on with them. Too dry. So I had a go at Murray Mints and found they worked a treat.
  • Trouble was, even allowing for trying to keep one going as long as possible. I still used to get through about 15 a day and the taste soon palled.
  • Once Phil Neale came on board as our operations manager it was one of his jobs to make sure the dressing-room was fully stocked at all times.
  • We even tried taking them on tour a couple of times until we realised that they didn¹t work as well on the Kookaburra balls used overseas as the Dukes we used back home."
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Peter Willey, former England batsman and ex-ICC umpire, who still officiates at county games, has seen bowlers using all sorts of methods on the ball. He offers an interesting analogy to Trescothick's mint. "People use suntan oil, lip salve, scruff the ball with finger and thumbs until they get caught. If you apply suntan oil on you forehead or face or arms and rub the sweat on your body (which is mixed with suntan oil) and then rub the ball what is the difference?"
While Willey believed Trescothick didn't violate the spirit of the game, Fraser wanted to look at the issue from another angle. "It is impossible to police," he said. "If a batsman edges the ball and stands his ground and no-one says a word, that is part of the game. And if a bowler adds sugary saliva on the ball, the spirit of the game is called into question. There should be some leniency about what the bowler can do to the ball. You don't want a cricket ball tested at the end of day for sugar, for sun cream, for lip gel, for finger nails and whatever else you want to try and put on it."
Michael Kasprowicz, who was a central performer in the second Test of that Ashes series, as the batsman who was dismissed caught-behind to Flintoff at Edgbaston, a decision which sealed Australia's heartbreaking two-run loss, said he was not bitter about Trescothick's admission.
"I actually wish Marcus put a bit more mint on the ball so it deflected further off my glove," he said. "We're talking about sugar coating using mints. There are a lot more major issues in the game at the moment to worry about."
Troy Cooley was the England bowling coach at the time and his reverse-swing techniques helped clinch the series. He denied having any clue about the practice.
"I had no knowledge of it and I certainly wouldn't recommend anything like that," Cooley told the Daily Telegraph. "I don't know if it would even work. I would never cheat in the game. Bowlers have used sweat and polish over the years to shine the ball. There is an old wives' tale from past years that sunscreen and Brylcreem helps the ball swing, but I don't know about that."

Will players be banned from applying suntan, or lip salve, and leave them at risk from the damaging rays of the sun? © AFP
According to Law 42.3(a)(i) any fielder "may polish the ball provided that no artificial substance is used ..." In Trescothick's case, the artificial substance was the mint which he didn't use directly but the mint induced the saliva which he used as an aid to shine the ball.
But does sucking a mint and applying the saliva amount to the application of an artificial substance? The ICC's verdict was "using artificial measures to shine the ball is illegal", but they would not "outlaw sucking sweets''. As of now, the ICC has said it will not interfere. "It depends on the evidence and circumstances, so if something is brought to our attention it would be dealt with," an ICC spokesperson told BBC.
The ECB have decided not to comment on the issue for the moment. "We have only seen reports of this admission," an ECB spokesperson said.
Allan Border, the former Australia captain, said Trescothick's announcement was not "earth-shattering news". "Over the last century or so bowlers have been fiddling around with balls using all sorts of stuff," Border said in the Australian.
Merv Hughes, an Australia selector, said the incident happened a long time ago so "it's no good worrying about it". "If he's come out and said that he's used it, yes, it's unethical," Hughes told the Age. "Yes, he got away with it, good luck to him. You can't change the result of the Test series."