Cricket World Cup 2019: Week 1, update #2—Tamper tantrums

The second of an informal weekly (p)review of the 2019 Cricket World Cup – or, as I like to call it, the #Champ10nsTrophy.

Truth be told, #CWC19 needed the England vs Pakistan result. After a couple of one-sided shellackings (expect me to return to that at a future date as part of yet another criticism of the 10-team format) a high-scoring game that went down to the wire and, most importantly, saw the favourites finish in second place, was needed to kickstart the competition.

England shouldn’t worry too much. Neither of the previous two hosts to win the World Cup managed a clean sweep: India lost to South Africa in 2011, and Australia lost to New Zealand in 2015. Neither had too much trouble in lifting the trophy a few matches later.

What it didn’t need was a ball-tampering controversy. Maybe “ball-tampering” and “controversy” are too strong a pair of terms: a couple of English batsmen were noticeably reticent – albeit also noticeably exercised – when given the opportunity to comment on the subject, thereby damping down the flames.

At Trent Bridge the umpires were quick to jump on the signs of proto-tampering and nip them in the bud. To be specific, both sides were warned against throwing the ball in on more than one bounce to the keeper, a well-worn tactic (geddit?) for roughing up one side. Whether they were consistent or not, or whether both teams complied with the direction equally, is immaterial to this discussion.

It strikes me as excessive to prevent teams from engaging in legitimate activity that has an incidental and beneficial side effect. The key point is that throwing the ball in on the bounce is justifiable for non-tampering reasons: the flatter trajectory is faster. Perhaps two or three bounces – which is what the umpires were taking exception to – is pushing it; is there a valid reason, other than an attempt to change the condition of the ball, for such throwing? Could one not argue that it saves time and reduces the sting on the bowler’s receiving hands?

Obviously this all seems to be overlooked when a run out is on the cards: I’ve yet to hear of umpires pulling up fielders who’ve effected outfield dismissals via a bounced throw. Yet even when not aiming for a run out, the the fielding side has a right, nay, a responsibility to save time where possible – as Bumble would say, to get on with the game. (There’s another #CWC19 disappointment: why’s Bumble missing from the commentary box?)

That’s not to say the umpires acted incorrectly. Law 41.3.2, the Law that prohibits ball-tampering, reveals a double standard: one for batsmen and one for everyone else.

41.3.2 It is an offence for any player to take any action which changes the condition of the ball.
Except in carrying out his/her normal duties, a batsman is not allowed to wilfully damage the ball. […]

https://www.lords.org/mcc/laws/unfair-play

How, pray, can one interact with the ball in any way that does not change its condition? Bowling anything other than full tosses will cause it to land and rough up. Catching it will transfer sweat or other substances onto its surface. Batsmen, however, are given special dispensation to wilfully damage the ball in carrying out their normal duties. Why are bowlers and fielders not similarly allowed to effect damage in the course of their normal duties?

Wasn’t the game so much more interesting when Hassan Ali found a bit of inswing? In fact, forget England losing: so far, the biggest surprise of the World Cup has been the lesser spotted Kookaburra swing. Even up the playing field, I say, and let bowlers damage the ball incidentally, if not accidentally.