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Ball tampering is balls for cricket!

Yet again, the “beautiful gentlemen’s game” is in disrepute, after another ball tampering incident occurred yesterday on the third day of the test match between South Africa and Australia.

Australia's Cameron Bancroft was spotted by cameras using a tape-like substance merged with granules from the wicket/ground to provide a rough texture on the one side of the cricket ball. This was confirmed after Bancroft's statement at the press conference after Day 3 at the Newlands Cricket Stadium. Alongside his captain, Steve Smith, who admitted regret had said that this was not part of his or the coaching staff’s decision; but, instead, of a selected leadership group of the team who had asked Cameron to be the instigator. Cameron had stipulated that he had learnt from this but he had also been in the wrong place, at the wrong time, when he was asked to do it.

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I made my radio commentary debut yesterday (24 March 2018). This incident took place while we were having an intriguing discussion on the science of cricket and the parameters that need to be looked out for with cricketers to optimise their performance. Initial thoughts were around “sandpaper”, but nothing was said about the allegations until confirmation last night. Literally and figuratively, a “rough” debut on my end.

Interestingly, analysis on social media had shown, that the cricket ball had an increased swing after the 34th over. During the 20th over, there was a 0.33 degree of swing. Unorthodoxly, 25 overs later, there was a 1.75 degree of swing at the 45th over!

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This is largely inconsistent in the game of cricket, even with overcast conditions. There was also a similar pattern of increased swing in Kingsmead at the Durban test match. This means that potential ball tampering did not start on Day 3 of the #SAvAus test series. We can continue to ponder at which stage this had started. Perhaps even during the Ashes series between Australia and England?

There has also been bizarre speculation around legalising ball tampering in cricket. Then perhaps, maybe let’s also have spikes on the pitch after a bowler’s delivery? Let’s tamper (again) with the bats and reinstate metal/aluminium? What else can we legalise? The ball manoeuvres the game of cricket, it forms an integral part of the game in all formats. How can this even be considered under the laws of the game and spirit of cricket? Ball tampering is balls for cricket! It should not be done, simple...

However, there are a number of scandals that take place in sport: doping, match-fixing, ball tampering, etc. These mainly occur when: 1) a player is tested positive, 2) a player gets caught, or 3) a player is upfront/pleads guilty. All which are relative (not absolute). There’ll be many occurrences where these have slipped under the carpet. As such, how many scandalous occurrences have happened in the past that we are not aware of?

The unfortunate truth is that some occurrences would go unnoticed and become a well-kept secret. For others, it will surface until it becomes pronounced in a few years’ time. By then, I am sure, for many, we would not be surprised and be left disappointed.

As a way forward, the International Cricket Council (ICC) should enforce more serious bans or disciplinary actions upon players who administer such actions that put the game into disrepute. Secondly, there should be clear transparency on the repercussions at hand, with fair bans or dismissals of players from any country or franchise/state/county. Lastly, promoting a culture and value chain of integrity, principles and honesty with our youth cricketers (at the foundational level) is imperative, so that such temptations and unwarranted behaviour can be prevented.

Dr. Habib Noorbhai (Mr South Africa 2017) is a Researcher in Sports Science and a Health and Wellness consultant. He is also an author, speaker and TV presenter. He completed a BA in Sport Psychology (UJ), Honours in Biokinetics (UKZN), MPhil in Biokinetics (UCT) and a PhD in Exercise Science at UCT.