I once wrote that Shahid Afridi is possibly the only cricketer in history who is dangerous for both sides in the same match. He is potentially the finest leader along with Younis Khan that we have ready at present (Salman Butt remains the longer term hope). He has also developed into arguably the finest spinner, if not the finest bowler, in one-day cricket. Even his batting has started to utilise brain in addition to brawn.
Why, then, does Afridi get into these moments of madness? I don’t buy his manager’s excuse that he was doing it for his team. Only the fictitious character of James Bond has the license to do what he has to in the name of queen and country. And he doesn’t have 28 cameras surrounding him when he takes a discreet, non-scripted advantage of his co-star while shooting.
The fact that Afridi has upfront accepted his misdemeanour and apologised profusely should close the issue; unless the ICC hound him for claiming that all teams do it. Enough has already been said about his moments of madness; we should reconcile that they will occur again. He clearly learnt nothing from his act of scraping the good length spot on the pitch some years back while play was held up briefly. At the time, he probably thought that the cameras had been switched off. The tape eventually replayed to show the spinner doing a twist while crossing the pitch. Afridi was punished for that antic by the match referee. Then, too, he apologised, saying exactly what he repeated at Perth. Four years on, nothing has changed. In the coming four years, we can expect little to change as well.
I want to clarify that what I am about to say next is in no way a defence of Afridi, but needs to be said nonetheless. Indeed, what Afridi did is unpardonable and it’s surprising that he got only a two-match ban: it was worth more than that.
That said, equally blatant – and some not-so-blatant acts – have been committed by other players on which match referees and commentators have remained silent. It is on record in at least one case relating to Australia’s wicketkeeper, Adam Gilchrist, in a group match during the first Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa.
Gilchrist received a throw from the boundary and upon collecting it rubbed it rapidly on the hard surface around the stumps – the antic was telecast by the channels. I was in the control room at the time as I was providing commentary for the match, and even pointed it out to a former Test captain of Pakistan who was in the studio. We had the move replayed for the captain, and he agreed that it was a clear violation of law 42-3(b). I am not claiming it was ball doctoring because Gilchrist plays fair and is known to be a ‘walker’ if he feels he has nicked it. But even he would have a hard time explaining what he was doing if the clip were shown to him again.
The point is that no one commented on Gilchrist’s ball rubdown even though it was in full view and the camera covered it for the entirety of the act. Where were the match officials? Where were the eagle-eyed, patriotic and sarcastic Australian commentators?
In a similar incident at the start of this year, England bowlers were pulled up by South Africa’s team management for Stuart Broad ‘spiking’ the ball with boots by stepping on it and scuffing it while James Anderson was caught on camera for using his fingernails to take leather off the ball.
Incidentally, the umpires during that incident hailed from Australia and New Zealand, and neither had played first-class cricket so wouldn’t know the clandestine techniques of ball tampering. Both the team managers were white as well. The ICC announced that no formal complaint had been made within the stipulated time and the matter was closed.
Astonishingly, David Lloyd said at the time, “If you've played international cricket, you'll shrug your shoulders at these allegations. We all know that it goes on all the time.” Afridi should use that quote in his defence if ICC pursues him further on similar claims.
But former England captains Michael Vaughn and Nasser Hussain as well as journalist Simon Wilde asked whether the same matter would have been dismissed without an investigation if they had been Pakistani bowlers.
Previously, in 1994, the then England captain, Mike Atherton, was caught in a blatant act of ball tampering by the TV cameras at Lord’s. When the English press brought it up he was quickly and quietly fined to pre-empt a ban and kept the England captaincy.
The Australians have reportedly dabbled in the art too, but you won’t find it on the mainstream news/videos, just as you won’t find the Gilchrist rub.
I say again that this track record does not exonerate or justify Afridi’s stupidity. As a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, he bit the ball with none of the subtlety that Broad and Atherton have been accused of. And if the ICC charge him for accusing other teams of ball tampering, he can always refer them to former England captain Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography, published last year, where he admits England regularly tampered with the ball. Of course the ICC never looked into the issue despite documentary evidence and a confession.
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