I have a friend who knows nothing about cricket, but whenever a cricketing scandal makes headlines, I can expect an immediate call or a visit from him. So I wasn’t surprised when the call came as soon as the recent ball-tampering incident began to dominate the news.
“Please explain to me what ball tampering means,” he said. And, as usual, I began my ‘cricket class’ with him. I’ve always tried to patiently explain to him, whenever he was curious to know about a controversy in cricket. But what puts me off is his impatience to listen carefully and try to understand what I tell him. Ironically, what he absorbs from my talk is everything other than cricket! Naturally, his questions that follow are simply ridiculous.
As soon as I said that this ball-tampering incident was schemed by Australian captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner, his question left me stumped! “How can a person by the name Warner, instead of warning players about the dangers of ball tampering, actually scheme to tamper the ball?”
Before I could offer a sensible explanation, he was ready with the next query: “Why have you made it such a big issue?” And he went on: “You mentioned this match was held in an African country; but surely South Africa is not such a poor country that they had just one ball to play with. They could have simply replaced that tampered ball with another one, instead of getting that Smith to cry so badly on reaching Australia!” That sounded more like a wisecrack.
Sugar and adhesive tapes
I knew I would be inviting trouble if I tried to explain anything more on how and why the ball was tampered. Despite that, I tried to explain to him the law on tampering and how cricketers, over the years, have used sugar, hair gel, lip balm and adhesive tape to tamper the ball. That was enough for him to take me on. He said: “I’ve always had candies with me while I played. Thank God, I did not go on to play professional cricket. I never knew about ball tampering with sugar and adhesive tapes. In fact, I used to fix my broken toys with adhesive tapes to escape punishment from my parents. Never knew it had other uses as well!”
Fearing even more ludicrous remarks, I avoided telling him how Cameron Bancroft tried to hide the tape inside his trousers. “So what measures are being considered to prevent these players from tampering with the ball? He asked. As usual, even before I could answer, he turned into an expert himself: “I think, hereafter, there must be a security check, as at airports, every time the Australians walk into a cricket ground. Umpires should carry many balls with them and get bowlers to pick a ball from the lot every time they are ready to bowl. Umpires must also have the right to walk up to the top of the run-up, snatch the ball from the bowler and give him another one. And if any bowler is seen applying saliva on the ball, he must be made to run around the field thrice with his tongue hanging out.”
After listening to his innovative solutions, I remarked that he should be part of the International Cricket Council’s rules committee. His response was: “Frankly, these guys should not be banned. I’ve always felt bad at this small ball being hit so mercilessly with a bat, and everyone clapping for it. The harder they hit, the more the crowd cheer. The players also pick up the ball and throw it at those three sticks in the middle. Once in Sharjah, I saw the crowd screaming with joy when the ball was hit out of the ground! You do all these to the ball and then ban the guys who apply tape on it or rub sugar or lip balm over it? Cricket is surely a funny game.”