Ball tampering in the Merks


Derrinalphil, the cricket umpire, is returning to the Footy Almanac for another season after a break of a few years. Life has been busy with Rotary business during the last few summers but normal delivery (no straightening of the arm from the horizontal to the point of delivery) will be resumed. [Ed’ note: The Mercantile Cricket Association in Melbourne is known affectionately as ‘The Merks’.]


Before commenting on the season start of real cricket, park cricket, normal cricket and the most important cricket, I thought I would recall an incident from a season quite a long time ago where I caught a player interfering with the condition of the ball, or so the batting captain thought was happening, but we dealt with it the way park cricket is supposed to operate. So different to the fiasco in South Africa.


Suburban grounds are community resources. The Brunswick Street Oval is actually called the W T Peterson Community Oval; named after a Labor councillor of many years who was a great servant of the well-known Fitzroy Labor identity Tom Roper. What this means to the park cricketer is that he is often surprised by the odd groups that he finds on the oval when he arrives for his game.


There was a particularly odd group that used to inhabit Fawkner Park, early on Saturday mornings, who would go out in a circle facing each other and start to laugh. Now, this would before I started to umpire so they weren’t laughing at my LBW decisions (no laughing matter) but they sounded forced and rather sinister to my ears.


Another group was a dog training school that used to operate down in Carnegie on Sunday mornings on the edge of a cricket ground. The laughing group would eventually stop and go away, only leaving bemusement on the faces of the cricket players of Fawkner Park. Unfortunately, the dog group left a more concrete (well rather slushy) reminder of their stay that eventually meant I had to adjudicate on what is now Law 41 .


Here is what happened.


The two captains were the opening bowler and the opening batsman and it soon became obvious they didn’t like each other at all. I eventually had to give the batting captain out Obstructing the Field so you can imagine he didn’t give me a good report after the game. The ball tampering incident started when the batsman played an expansive drive to an away swinger but closed the face, getting a leading edge, bunting the ball a mile in the air and out to the point boundary. Unfortunately, this was right where the dog obedience classes were centred and I think you can guess what the ball fell in.


The ball was returned to mid-off and the fielder there, a nice young Sri Lankan chap, Rowan, started rubbing the ball on the grass. I told him to stop and come over to me with the ball. The Laws used to state that it was unfair to rub the ball on the ground for any reason. They have refined what the Laws say about ‘ball tampering’ and eliminate this prescriptive instruction. Here is the new wording.


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.  See also Law 5.5 (Damage to the ball).

A fielder may, however polish the ball on his/her clothing provided that no artificial substance is used and that such polishing wastes no time. remove mud from the ball under the supervision of an umpire. dry a wet ball on a piece of cloth that has been approved by the umpires.

41.3.3 The umpires shall consider the condition of the ball to have been unfairly changed if any action by any player does not comply with the conditions in 41.3.2.

41.3.4 If the umpires consider that the condition of the ball has been unfairly changed by a member or members of either side, they shall ask the captain of the opposing side if he/she would like the ball to be replaced.  If necessary, in the case of the batting side, the batsmen at the wicket may deputise for their captain.


I find it interesting that ‘loading’ one side of the ball with spit is probably unfair.


The batting captain, who noticed the fielder’s actions marched down the pitch declaiming that the fielding side now had to get a new ball, a real expense in Park cricket. Now he wouldn’t shut up so I had to use some ‘command presence’ on him. I never walk towards a complaining player or captain. I make them walk to me. I stand as tall as possible and stand a bit too close before I say anything. I give prescriptive instructions to irate players: “be quiet”, “say nothing”, “leave the area”, as quietly as possible. They have to listen.


Once the batting captain had disappeared back down the wicket, I turned to Rowan and asked him why he was rubbing the ball on the ground.


He replied, “It’s fallen in some dog shit. What do you want me to do? Lick it off?” I replied that was perfectly allowable but what he was doing was specifically forbidden. The fielding captain was listening in and asked everyone who had a hankie that could be used to clean the ball. I was the only volunteer but I had a rather bad cold at the time. The hankie couldn’t be described as clean, so another non-artificial substance was probably added to the ball.


I have wondered ever since what would dog droppings do to the swing of a cricket ball? Forget about lollies, bottle tops and sandpaper. What about dog poo?



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  1. Good one, Phil! A whole range of images and word plays come to mind, many of the latter not necessarily suited to a polite setting such as the Almanac. I’ll just have to make do with saying that you were in a ‘spot of bother’.

  2. Mark Duffett says

    “The gentlemen’s game” is a phrase increasingly rarely heard in relation to cricket for obvious reasons, but these sorts of dog acts will certainly put a full stop to it.

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