What is Ball Tampering in International Cricket?

In the game of cricket, ball tampering is an activity in which a fielder illegally alters the condition of the ball. The primary motivation of ball-tampering is to interfere with the aerodynamics of the ball to aid swing bowling.

Under Law 41, subsection 3 of the Laws of Cricket, the ball may be smoothed without the use of an unnatural substance, may be dried with a towel if it is wet, and have mud separated from it under surveillance; all other steps which alter the condition of the ball are illegal. These are normally taken to include rubbing the ball on the ground, scuffing with a fingernail or other prickly thing, or tampering with the seam of the ball.

Sanctions and Monitoring

The umpires are accountable for observing the condition of the ball and must examine it regularly. Where an umpire has deemed a player to be guilty of ball-tampering (the Laws refer to unfairly changing the condition of the ball), five penalty runs are granted to the other side, and, if appealed by the opposing captain, the ball is instantly replaced. The replacement ball is chosen by the umpires and should match the shape of the previous ball (before tampering) as closely as feasible. Depending on additional agreements laid out before the commencement of a series of matches, the team may instead be permitted to choose the ball from a selection of balls in multiple stages of use.

What are the illegal substances which are banned?

The use of foreign objects to polish the ball is illegal, but may be difficult to detect by the umpires, especially if mixed with saliva (the use of saliva alone is allowed). Items that have been used for this purpose include hair gel, sugar from sweets, and lip balm. Some commentators have suggested that this form of undetected ball-tampering may be prevalent.

Picking at the strings of the main seam or ‘lifting’ the quarter seam to aid conventional and reverse swing sequentially are also illegal. Altering the quarter seam can be especially difficult to detect or prove.

There have been a number of high-profile cases of alleged ball-tampering, especially in international cricket due to the improvement in television coverage. As ball tampering is a form of deception and is often difficult to prove, impeachments have often been contentious.

4 Examples of Ball-Tampering in International Cricket

Michael Atherton, 1994

In the “dirt in pocket” case, then England captain Michael Atherton was accused of ball-tampering during a Test match with South Africa at Lord’s in 1994 after television cameras caught Atherton stretching into his pocket and then grinding a substance on the ball. Atherton denied ball-tampering, claiming that he had dirt in his pocket which he used to dry his hands. He was also accused of lying to the match referee. Atherton was charged and was fined £2,000 for failing to confess the dirt to the match referee.

Pakistan cricket team, 2006

In 2006, an alleged ball-tampering issue overshadowed a Test match between Pakistan and England, whereby Pakistan refused to take to the field for the evening session after being penalised for ball tampering in the afternoon. Television cameras caught the umpires discussing the condition of the quarter seam. Pakistan are believed to have intended a protest against the decision by delaying their return after tea; however, while they were refusing to play, the umpires awarded the game to England in accordance with the Laws of Cricket.

The controversy occurred when the umpires, Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove, ruled that the Pakistani team had been charged with ball-tampering. They awarded five penalty runs to England and a replacement ball was selected by England batsman Paul Collingwood. Play lasted until the tea break, without any Pakistani objection. After the tea break, the Pakistani team, after having accepted amongst themselves that no ball-tampering had taken place and given evidence to the severity of the implication, refused to take the field. The umpires then left the field, gave a warning to the Pakistani players, and retired once more 15 minutes later. After waiting two more minutes the umpires dislodged the bails and declared England winners by forfeiture. 

A deal was brokered between the English and Pakistani cricket boards to allow the match to continue, and the Pakistani team did take to the field 55 minutes after the umpires first took to the field for the resumption of play. Hair and Doctrove, however, declined to continue the game controlling their decision that Pakistan had abandoned the match by declining to play.

Shahid Afridi, 2010

Shahid Afridi, standing in as the Pakistani captain, received a two T20 international match ban for ball-tampering in a game against Australia in January 2010. He was captured on camera biting the cricket ball in an odd effort to re-adjust the seam of the ball. The ball was finally replaced. He told the Hindustan Times that he was trying to smell the ball, but he pleaded guilty to ball-tampering. Afridi had earlier been banned for tampering with the pitch in a game against England in 2005.

Australia vs South Africa, 2018

Australian player Cameron Bancroft was charged with ball-tampering on 24 March 2018, when videos surfaced that showed him rubbing the ball with, and later secreting, a yellow object during day three of the Third Test against South Africa at Newlands Stadium. Bancroft later claimed the object was a short length of the yellow adhesive tape to which dirt and grit had adhered, forming a rough surface – though four days later, Cricket Australia proved that this was really sandpaper. Captain Steve Smith and Bancroft accompanied a press conference at the end of that day’s play. Bancroft admitted ball-tampering to Andy Pycroft, the match referee, and the press. Smith then said that the tampering was drafted by an unnamed “leadership group” during the lunch break. Smith and vice-captain David Warner stood down in the morning after the incident but still played on, with wicket-keeper Tim Paine taking over as captain for the rest of the Test match.

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