The Only Problem with Ball Tampering Is Getting Caught

Antoinette MullerFeatured ColumnistOctober 25, 2013

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - FEBRUARY 01: (SOUTH AFRICA) Faf du Plessis of South Africa during day 1 of the first Test match between South Africa and Pakistan at Bidvest Wanderers Stadium on February 01, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Faf du Plessis has caused a little bit of a stir in the United Arab Emirates.

During the 30th over of the third innings in the Test between Pakistan and South Africa, the umpires decided to change the ball because they felt it had been significantly altered. 

It didn't take long for the cameramen to spot the issue either. Du Plessis was spotted rubbing the ball on the zipper of his trousers and the umpires deemed that this act was worthy of five penalty runs in favour of Pakistan.

They were right. 

Altering the state of the ball, getting one side to be roughed up while shining the other side, is pretty conventional in cricket.

England created a furore earlier this year during the Champions Trophy when it was suggested that they were up to similar mischief. Ashley Giles denied the allegations back then, but South Africa's AB de Villiers said that "everybody tries it."

In a largely batsman dominated game, it's not a completely unreasonable suggestion. 

In this Test, South Africa were getting the ball to reverse after around 20 overs in the first innings. There was no significant evidence that the ball had been altered to the state of needing to be changed. With umpires generally checking the state of the ball at the end of every over, there were no concerns then.

However,  this time it was different and some crafty camera work ensured that there was evidence of it for all to see. Vernon Philander was also spotted digging a finger nail into the ball. It was all pretty blatant, not as blatant as Shahid Afridi trying to take a bite out of the ball, but pretty blatant nonetheless. 

Some South African fans were outraged, shocked, dismayed and completely caught offside by the incident. The truth is, though, they really shouldn't be.

Ball-tampering is a dirty word. A far better word is ball management. Every team does this. Some do it better than others and get away with it far more often than others.

The only problem with ball management is when you get caught. Changing the state of the ball is as much part of the game as trying to create certain areas of rough in the crease. It's as much part of it as trying your luck and not walking.

It happens all the time and the only real problem with it is getting caught. To say that there's a case for legalising it is obtuse as this has the potential to go too far, but that's where the officials come in. The umpires are there to do their jobs and if teams can find crafty ways to make the ball work for them, why shouldn't they be allow to do it?

"Cheating" is a word often thrown around in cases like this, but is it really considered cheating if teams can do it within certain means? It is rather precious and obtuse to brandish that term about when it's a common occurrence that only causes outrage when it is exposed.

On South Africa's part, they had absolutely no reason to want to alter the ball to the extent of fingernails and zips, unless they had a round of golf booked for tomorrow morning. They got caught, they will take the punishment and carry the millstone of "cheats" - whether that term is unfair or not is another story.  

However, to think that South Africa are the only side to attempt this kind of thing is nothing short of grossly naive. They were just stupid enough to get caught.

On a side note, what on earth is the reason for cricket trousers to have pockets with zips? That in itself should suggest that teams are far more crafty about their ball management than many overly precious fans want to believe.

Tamper away, but be prepared to face the full wrath of officials if you do it in a way that's so completely blatant.