The double game

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Shamik Chakrabarty | Updated: Nov 3 2013, 09:12am hrs
Mahendra Singh Dhonis speciality is not just restricted to his pyrotechnics with the bat and his leadership qualities. It is also about his outlook towards the game.

After chasing down 350-plus targets twice in three completed matches, the captain of a team is supposed to be ecstatic. The fans were euphoric about another Virat Kohli-special, but the skipper put things in perspective after Indias win over Australia in Nagpur.

Its more of a fight (now) as to which side bowls less badly. A few of the bowlers are disappointed...They actually feel it will be better off to put a bowling machine there, said Dhoni.

New balls from both ends and just four fielders outside the ring in non-powerplay overs have indeed made lives miserable for the bowlers in limited-overs cricket. The shorter format of the game is basically meant to be played on flat pitches and things have now become ridiculously lopsided in favour of the batters, especially in Indian conditions.

The whole dynamics of one-day cricket has altered following the rules change that came into effect on October 30 last year. A 300-plus total no longer remains awe-inspiring. With two new balls, reverse swing has gone out of equation, while the spinners are in constant trouble to grip the ball. We dont have to wait very long before 400-plus totals become routine in one-day cricket, said Australian opener Aaron Finch the other day.

All these invite a question: Should ball tampering be made legal in all formats of the game

These days, when batters are protected from head to toe, pitches are generally batting-friendly and the number of bouncers per over is restricted, bowlers do need some external help.

In fact, ball tampering should never be a major issue. Every team does it in some form or the other. It is prevalent in every level of the game for close to 100 years now.

John Lever used Vaseline on the ball during Englands tour of India in 1976-77 and got away with it. Pakistani cricketers reportedly stitched sandpapers on to their trousers when India visited across the border in 1982. Imran Khan became unplayable with the old ball in that series, though Sunil Gavaskar still managed to score a couple of centuries.

Former England captain Michael Atherton was caught rubbing loose soil on to the ball during a home Test match against South Africa in 1994. Unlike the previous incidents, Atherton, however, was fined.

But the International Cricket Council (ICC) banned Waqar Younis when he was caught in the act in 2000. One year later, ICC match referee Mike Denness suspended Sachin Tendulkar for one game for allegedly scuffling the seam of the ball during the second Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth. Jagmohan Dalmiya, then Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president, took on the world body and stubbornly defended Indias icon player. The tussle saw the following Test match lose its official status, but the suspension wasnt revoked.

Then in 2006, Australian umpire Darrell Hair and his colleague from West Indies Billy Doctrove applied a five-run penalty to Pakistan for ball tampering during a Test match against England at the Oval. Pakistan refused to take the field in protest and forfeited the match.

The recent Faf du Plessis incident, however, reeks of double standards. The South African middle-order batsman doctored the ball during the second Test against Pakistan in UAE and was fined 50% of his match fee. But if ball tampering is cheating, then why is there a difference in the severity of punishments handed out to offenders Pakistan was right to question match referee David Boons lenient attitude towards du Plessis.

Legalising ball tampering might put an end to the whole controversy; the likes of Imran Khan and Sir Richard Hadlee have already backed the idea.

Younis, however, feels it is impossible to legalise ball tampering. I dont think its feasible. If you legalise ball tampering, there will be a lot of swing, and batting at times will become almost impossible. All I want is uniformity in the rules, said the former Pakistan coach after the du Plessis-gate. He talked logic.

Truth is always far from palatable, but the time has come to accept the fact that the ICCs spirit of cricket is nothing but a vague idea in this era of commercialisation and cut-throat professionalism.

Now, its about what is legal and what is not and a clear demarcation must be drawn between the dos and donts.

For far too long, cricket has thrived on hypocrisy. Time to standardise the rules and have uniformity.