Why aren't you ball tampering yet? | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

Why aren't you ball tampering yet?

Go off the record with any professional fast bowler and the mantra of "ball tampering is never acceptable" is quickly shown to be a myth.

One first-class player I spoke to recently told me that it's common practice to "alter the condition of the ball" in total disregard of Law 42.3. It's a batsman's game, he argued, and the bowlers need every trick in the book to redress the balance.

Batsmen have better bats, flatter wickets, favourable LBW laws and shorter boundaries, yet the bowler is hamstrung by the ball condition.

He has a point.

Why is ball tampering cheating?

When you change the ball you change the way it behaves. If you shine one side it swings more. If you scuff up the other side it swings even more again. If you lift the seam the ball moves sharply off the pitch.

The balance of power shifts back towards the bowler.

But as we already know, this isn't a bad thing. It's rebalancing rather than giving bowlers an unfair advantage.

In 2006 Bob Woolmer said "Law 42.3 is an ass" and campaigned to get the MCC, the guardians of the Laws, to remove it.

This would allow bowlers scuff up one side as well as shine one side.

He said: "Every single bowler I know from the time I played in 1968 to 1984 was guilty of some sort of ball-changing."

So if everyone is already doing it, the law is lagging behind reality.

That said, the Law might be an ass, but it's still a Law with severe punishments from the umpires including penalty runs and banning from bowling in the current innings.

Yet by their own admission, many bowlers ignore the Law and 'prepare' the ball in a number of ways and get away with it without incident.

What are these ways?
Throwing on the bounce

The latest development is to scuff up one side of the ball by making the ball bounce before it arrives to the keeper.

It's almost impossible to police by the umpires and a rough surface (such as old wickets on the square) combined with a lot of shining means there is a big difference between smooth and rough sides and therefore more swing.

Sugary saliva

Made famous by Marcus Trescothick in his autobiography. The left handed English opener would suck on Murray Mints in the slips. He would then apply the sugary spit to one side of the ball, adding more shine and more swing to the ball.

Other substances have also been tried in the past including sun cream, lip salve, hair cream and furniture polish. The effects of these are not as widely known.

Lifting the seam

It perfectly legal to use a nail to clean mud or dirt from a ball, but the sneaky part is lifting the seam or quarter seam.

Lifting the seam makes it more prominent and the ball will move of the pitch more. Lifting the quarter seam aids swing.

Ball tampering is an emotive subject. By the letter of the Law it's illegal but in reality it's a widespread practice which divides opinions (Bob Woolmer, Alan Donald and Richard Hadlee have all supported a change over the years).

For those reasons, it's up to the bowler to decide whether they need to create an advantage illegally, but if you do it you won't be the first or last.

image credit: dagbo


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Good article... worrying that its effectively being encouraged by you though

I just thought it was time for a mature discussion about something that goes on yet is vilified on the surface. I don't encourage or reject, just discuss.

1) Would bowling cross-seam scuff the ball up quicker? May not be necessary (or even useful?) but if so would be a very legal way of altering the condition to suit bowlers.

2) "In 2006 Bob Woolmer said "Law 42.3 is an ass" and campaigned to get the MCC, the guardians of the Laws, to remove it.

This would allow bowlers scuff up one side as well as shine one side."

This could get quite out of hand. Actively scuffing would surely DRAMATICALLY and quickly alter the condition of the ball - not the case with simply shining it. I'm not sure I would want that encouraged without a bit more nuance, and even then that could be complicated and difficult to enforce, possible making it not worth the trouble.

I'm not sure about number 1, I have never tried it or seen it tried. Your second point is possibly true, but how do we know until we try? I would like to see it experimented with at least.

Would you allow players to use their spikes to scuff the ball up under this rule?

All I would do is open the discussion. I don't really mind what is done as long as the balance between bat and ball remains.

I can really imagine a lot of damage very quickly being done to a ball if it were legal - in between overs, waiting for a new batsman...without worrying about hiding the fact. Yikes.

This is a very good article on a subject i have been interested in for a long while.

At amateur level is the ball tampering law ever likely to be enforced ?

Has anyone reading this actually tried the Murray Mint thing ?

I've never seen anyone do it at my level, but maybe the bowlers are just really sneaky.

My winter nets start this week and i am going to experiment with a few things to see if i can artificially enhance the shine of the ball.

Murray mints and maybe some lip salve to start with.

Hey David, Stephen in an earlier comment asked:

"1) Would bowling cross-seam scuff the ball up quicker? May not be necessary (or even useful?) but if so would be a very legal way of altering the condition to suit bowlers."

Here's the answer: yes, bowling cross-seam will scuff up the ball and allow for reverse swing as early as the 10th over. Provided the wicket is rough and dry.

The Indians actually attempted just that with much success in an Ind vs Aus match in 2008. Check this out:


Copy-paste the link as it doesn't seem to work directly.

I strongly suspected it would, however you might lose a bit in that you won't get as much seam movement while you're doing so. Tricky.

Yeah that's true but you could always do it after 10-15 overs. You don't have to bowl cross-seam from the get-go.

On game I played in, a semi final in a state school competition we were getting thrashed trying to defend 135 in a 40 overs game and they were 1/70 off 15 overs. We got a drinks break and we quickly put a bit of sunscreen on on side of the ball. And as you would all expect it swung miles, and you could swing easily both ways, similar to a taped tennis ball. In the end we bowled them out for 110. I just told the other side I made sure everyone shined the ball and it was because of the weather. Eye-wink

I don't think that is aloud? Reason is because you could accidently take out a massive chunk of the ball. This is the same as biting it aswell?

i have and the ball works a treat