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04 May 2018

The Cricket Ball Tampering Saga– Rules & Ethics In A Gentleman’s Game

In the wake of the ball-tampering scandal (during the Cape Town Test Match between Australia Vs. South Africa), which left not only Cricket Australia (CA) [the governing body for the game in Australia] but the entire cricketing fraternity in shock, Cricket Australia seems to be determined to make a decisive course correction to prevent recurrence of such incidents. They have announced the setting up of a review paneli to study the behavioral, cultural, organizational and governance aspects of Australian Cricket. The review panel, to be overseen by ex-Australian cricketers Rick McCosker and Peter Collins – Director Australian’s Centre for Ethical Leadership, would also include former players Shane Watson, George Bailey and current leaders Tim Paine and Rachel Haynes. Cricket Australia believes that the panel will be able to identify and recommend actions that would prevent recurrence of such events in future.

This article describes the issues and concerns related to the controversy, the existing rules and regulations and the disciplinary action taken by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and CA. It also touches upon certain previous instances of a similar nature.


During the 3rd Test Match of Australia’s recently concluded tour of South Africa (March 2018) a major controversy erupted. Footage captured by the on ground TV cameramen showed Australian cricketer Cameron Bancroft rubbing the ball with some object and then seemingly putting the object back in his pocket. As the event was replayed multiple times on the ground screen it raised suspicions that the ball had been tampered with. Having seen the replays, the Australian cricketer appeared to panic and tried to conceal the object; this action too was captured and shown on the ground screen. This incident made the on-field umpires Richard Illingworth and Nigel Llong [i] question Bancroft in the presence of his captain Steve Smith. Bancroft pleaded ignorance of any such wrongdoings and the match progressed without the ball being changed.  But as media worldwide aired the video footage numerous times during the day, Smith and Bancroft admitted during the post-match conference [ii] to having tampered the ball to gain some advantage.

As per reports[iii] it was former South African cricketer Fanie de Villiers who tipped off the camera crew that caught Australian Cricketer Cameron Bancroft rubbing the ball. Earlier, when Fanie De Villiers noticed that Australian bowlers were getting the ball to “reverse swing” at an early stage of the inning, being a former swing bowler himself, thought something was fishy. He is believed to have told the on ground TV cameramen to keep an eye. According to de Villiers, it took the cameramen an hour and a half of searching before they caught Bancroft in the act.


The Laws of Cricket is a code which specifies the rules of the cricket worldwide. The earliest known code was drafted in 1744 and since then has been revised over six times. The seventh and latest code has been in force since October 2017. It has been owned and maintained by its custodian, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in London which is a private club and formerly cricket’s official governing body, a role now fulfilled by the ICC. Since its formation in 1787, MCC has been recognized as the sole authority for drawing up the Code and for all subsequent amendments, with the close consultation with the ICC and other interested parties [iv].

Under Law 41.3.2 of the Laws of Cricket[v], 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 willfully damage the ball. However, a fielder may: 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; and/or dry a wet ball on a piece of cloth that has been approved by the umpires.


Though the Laws of Cricket is the code which specifies the rules of cricket worldwide, it is the ICC which governs and administers the game of cricket. The ICC presides over the ICC Code of Conduct and other ICC regulations. The ICC code has laid down a code of conduct for all players and support personnel. The ICC Code of Conduct[vi] is part of the ICC’s continuing efforts to maintain the public image, popularity and integrity of cricket by providing an effective means to deter any participant from conducting themselves improperly on and off the ‘field-of-play’ or in a manner that is contrary to the ‘spirit of cricket’. A robust disciplinary procedure is also prescribed for those who violate this Code of Conduct.

Article 2.2.9 of the ICC Code of Conduct (changing the condition of the ball in breach of law 42.3 of the Laws of Cricket) states that:

Any action(s) likely to alter the condition of the ball which were not specifically permitted under clause 41.3.2 may be regarded as ‘unfair’. The following actions shall not be permitted (this list of actions is not exhaustive but included for illustrative purposes):

(a) Deliberately throwing the ball into the ground for the purpose of roughening it up;

(b) Applying any artificial substance to the ball; and applying any non-artificial substance for any purpose other than to polish the ball;

(c) Lifting or otherwise interfering with any of the seams of the ball;

(d) Scratching the surface of the ball with finger or thumb nails or any implement”

The Umpires shall use their judgment to apply the principle that actions taken to maintain or enhance the condition of the ball, provided no artificial substances are used, shall be permitted. Any actions taken with the purpose of damaging the condition of the ball or accelerating the deterioration of the condition of the ball shall not be permitted.

Therefore, the ICC Code of Conduct clearly lays down what actions on the ball are considered to be “unfair”.


Both the governing bodies (ICC and CA) swung into action post incident and investigated the matter before taking disciplinary action.

By the ICC:

Changing the condition of the Ball is in breach of Law 42.3 of the Laws of Cricket and as such is considered a “Level 2” offence under the ICC Code of Conduct. It refers to changing the condition of the ball i.e. rubbing the ball on the ground, interfering with its seam or surface, or using any implement that can alter the condition of the ball to thereby gain unfair advantage.[vii]  Article 7 of the ICC’s Code of Conduct provides for a fine of 50-100% of the match fees and a minimum of two demerit points in case a player is found guilty of ball tampering.

Cameron Bancroft was charged under Article 2.2.9 of the ICC code of conduct and fined 75 per cent of his match fee and handed three demerit points. Bancroft admitted that he breached ICC code of conduct and accepted the sanction awarded by the Match Referee.

Since Steve Smith had admitted that he was party to the plan to change the condition of the ball in order to gain an advantage, he was charged under Article 2.2.1 (conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game) of the ICC Code of Conduct. He was handed a one-match suspension and fined 100% of his match fee as per Article 7 of the ICC Code of Conduct. Smith too accepted the Match Referee’s decision.

ICC’s press statement quoted its CEO Dave Richardson: “The decision made by the leadership group of the Australian team to act in this way is clearly contrary to the spirit of the game, risks causing significant damage to the integrity of the match, the players and the sport itself and is therefore ‘serious’ in nature. As captain, Steve Smith must take full responsibility for the actions of his players and it is appropriate that he be suspended.” [viii]

 By Cricket Australia:

Though the ICC charged the Australian players under its Code of Conduct and dished out prescribed punishment, there was widespread criticism among the public and former cricketers that the quantum of punishment was not a strong enough deterrent. This forced Cricket Australia to take further steps. After quick investigations, CA made an announcement [ix] that Steve Smith and David Warner were stepping down from the post of Captain and Vice-captain respectively for the remainder of the test match.

After further investigations, CA Board considered the recommendations of the investigating team and accordingly CA via its media statement dated March 28, 2018 [x] stated that prior knowledge of the incident was confined to three players i.e. Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft and accordingly, they were being charged with a breach of Article 2.3.5 of the CA Code of Conduct[xi].  Steve Smith and David Warner were suspended for 12 months from all international and domestic Cricket. Cameron Bancroft was suspended for 9 months. Additionally, while Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft were barred from consideration for the team leadership positions for a minimum of 12 months, David Warner was barred from consideration for team leadership positions for the rest of his cricketing career.

In addition, all three players were asked to undertake 100 hours of voluntary service in community cricket. All three players were permitted and encouraged to play club cricket. Although these players had the right to appeal against the sanctions, the trio refrained from doing so.


Ball tampering is not a new phenomenon to cricket; indeed, there have been many instances in the past, involving various cricketers from most of test playing countries. But with advances in technology, more cases are coming to light nowadays. Here are some prominent cases from the yesteryears:

John Lever: England v India, Madras, 1976: In the “Vaseline Incident “John Lever, an English fast-medium swing bowler was accused of rubbing Vaseline in the match ball for greater swing. The Indian cricket board sent pieces of gauze and the ball to a laboratory for analysis. Although the tests proved that “traces” of Vaseline did exist on the ball, the decision was given in favor of the English bowler.

Chris Pringle: New Zealand v Pakistan, Faisalabad, 1990: Interestingly, the New Zealand paceman in his autobiography “Save The Last Ball For Me”, narrated the “the bottle top technique” incident, which led to their victory against Pakistan. He further adds, “Neither umpire showed any concern nor took any notice in what we were doing even though, at the end of the innings, the ball was very scratched. One side was shiny but there were lots of grooves and lines and deep gouges on the other side. It was so obvious. It was ripped to shreds.” However, due to limited access to television technology, they escaped punishment.

Sachin Tendulkar: South Africa v India, Port Elizabeth, 2001: Referred to as the God of Indian Cricket, Sachin was penalized by the match referee Mike Denness for “acting on the match ball” in a Test match in South Africa, imposing a fine of 75% of his match fee and a one-match suspension. The incident was picked up by television cameras that suggested Tendulkar may have been involved in cleaning the seam of the ball which can, under some conditions, amount to altering the condition of the ball. This incident got escalated as allegations of racism surfaced, resulting in a massive backlash from India. After a thorough investigation, the ICC revoked the official status of the match and hence the ban on Tendulkar was revoked.

Rahul Dravid: India v Zimbabwe, Brisbane, 2004: Rahul Dravid was found guilty of ball tampering during an ODI against Zimbabwe in the tri-nation Commonwealth Bank Series held in Australia. Match referee Clive Lloyd emphasized that television footage conclusively showed the star Indian batsman intentionally applying a lozenge to the ball during the Zimbabwean innings at the Gabba, which was in breach of clause 2.10 of the ICC’s Code of Conduct. Dravid was fined 50% of his match fee.


The recent incident has shown that how an incident like “Ball Tampering” can have a catastrophic impact on the careers and personal lives of cricketers.  Even though the ICC has been relatively lenient in the instant case, CA (the regulator in the country of the offenders) has come down hard in order to preserve the integrity and popularity of the game. This incident has been a wake-up call for Australian cricket, which, in recent years seems to have infused a culture of “winning at any cost”- even if that cost is in the form of ethics and morals of what has for centuries been referred to as “the gentleman’s game”. This is also being the reason why the role of the coaches and other supporting staff has come under scrutiny.


[i] https://www.financialexpress.com/sports/meet-zotani-oscar-the-cameraman-who-captured-cameron-bancrofts-ball-tampering-moment/1111722/

[ii] https://www.firstpost.com/firstcricket/sports-news/australia-ball-tampering-scandal-timeline-of-events-that-culminated-in-one-year-bans-for-steve-smith-david-warner-4409527.html

[iii] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/cricket/australia-in-south-africa/timeline-how-ball-tampering-saga-led-to-suspension-of-smith-warner-bancroft/articleshow/63493978.cms

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_of_Cricket

[v] https://www.lords.org/mcc/laws-of-cricket/new-code-of-laws-october-2017/

[vi] https://www.icc-cricket.com/about/cricket/rules-and-regulations/code-of-conduct

[vii] https://pulse-static-files.s3.amazonaws.com/ICC/document/2017/10/05/226f919d-1bdd-4719-a32b-11b582a1c8a0/ICC-Men-s-Test-Match-Playing-Conditions-2017-Code-FINAL-051017.pdf

[viii] https://www.icc-cricket.com/media-releases/650624

[ix] https://www.cricketaustralia.com.au/media/media-releases/cricket-australia-statement/2018-03-25

[x] https://www.cricketaustralia.com.au/media/media-releases/cricket-australia-statement-update/2018-03-28

[xi] Article 2.3.5 – Where the facts of the alleged incident are not adequately or clearly covered by any of the above offences, conduct at any time that either: (a) is contrary to the spirit of the game; (b) is unbecoming of a representative or official; (c) is or could be harmful to the interests of cricket; or (d) does or could bring the game of cricket into disrepute. (Cricket Australia Code of Conduct for Players and Player Support Personnel Effective from 25 September 2017.

[xii] http://cricket.rediff.com/report/2010/feb/02/chronology-ball-tampering-controversies-shahid-afridi.htm

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