Imran Khan (right) leaves court on July 16, 1996 with his lawyer Sir George Carman QC during the libel case in the High Court between Ian Botham and Imran Khan © Getty Images
Aamer Sohail’s charges against Imran Khan have come as a surprise attack from within, but this is hardly the first such allegation against the legendary all-rounder. Arunabha Sengupta traces the numerous associations of Imran and his disciples with the murky art of ball tampering.
Aamer Sohail has dropped a bombshell on the already devastated cricketing landscape of Pakistan with his comment: “Imran damaged Pakistan cricket by encouraging our bowlers to tamper with the ball. This has led to a culture where we can’t produce good new ball bowlers or quality openers.”
The former opening batsman shook the cricketing establishment by airing his views in a much-publicised outburst during a televised program. With the nation trying to digest the poor performance of the present team, Sohail has effectively jerked the rosy carpet of past glories from under many blissful feet.
This is a surprise strike from within the very core of the team that had thrived on the vagaries of reverse swing. Especially so because Sohail had been one of the major successes of the team that won in England in 1992, a rancorous affair which ended in charges of ball tampering and libel cases involving Imran Khan, Allan Lamb and Ian Botham.
However, Pakistan cricketers have seldom been a very close knit unit. Neither is this the first time such allegations have been brought up against Imran Khan’s hallowed name. Indeed, there have been far too many such charges and through the years the legendary all-rounder has not really taken pains to deny his role in such practises.
While the art of swinging the old ball was kept an ingenious secret for long among the pace bowlers of the country, the finer points meticulously whispered into the ear of the next generation, Imran had not been silent about his own curious ability and that of the fellow Pakistani bowlers. He was not known to keep the curriculum vitae of himself and his protégés under cover, even when the techniques bordered on, or sometimes gravely trespassed into, the shady zone.
Yes, it was Sarfraz Nawaz who pioneered the art, sending down unplayable banana like deliveries which confused many. “Yes Lambie, I am the king,” he is supposed to have smugly remarked after beating his Northamptonshire colleague and future High Court opponent, Allan Lamb. With slow, grassless wickets offering little movement off the seam — sometimes none at all — and with the original lacquer that aids traditional swing disappearing rapidly in the conditions, necessity was the mother of invention. It was Sarfraz who pioneered the movement of turning the weakness into opportunity, the disappearing shine into a virtue.
As Wasim Akram recalled, “We started to avoid the usual method of keeping one side polished… instead we kept one side smooth and the other rough. The idea was to weigh down one side of the ball so that it acts as a bias against the other, leading to unexpected and late swing. We would weigh down the smooth side with sweat, spit, earth, mud, so that it would be heavier than the dry, rough side.”
Sweat and spit should not have been a problem, but the use of earth and mud come under the ball tampering violation. But then, Imran and company have not really restricted their tools of the trade just to sweat, spit, earth and mud.
It was Imran who learnt this new art from Sarfraz and added his intelligent artfulness into the fray. With time, he produced dramatic movement with the old ball. “After every lunch or tea interval the ball did crazy things,” recalled Ravi Shastri of an early tour to Pakistan. Once, after the final Indian wicket went down, the ball rolled down behind the wicket to the fine boundary and was picked up by veteran cricket journalist Rajan Bala. There seemed to be something sticky on the red cherry. When Bala asked Imran, his answer was combined acerbic wit and skilful evasion: “Must have been something the Indian batsmen left behind.”
“I got the 12th man to bring on a bottle top”
However, when the action shifted to the temporarily less-volatile fields of English county cricket, Imran was far more forthcoming about his views. According to him, all seam bowlers down the generations have tailored the ball to suit their needs. “I have occasionally scratched the ball and lifted the seam. Only once did I use an object. The ball was not deviating at all, so I got the 12th man to bring on a bottle top and it started to move around a lot.” This was during the county encounter between Sussex and Hampshire in 1981, and the methods remained undetected.
A year later, however, people started noticing. Perhaps aware of the boasts of Sarfraz, Lamb was suspicious about the movement Imran and Mudassar Nazar obtained during the Lord’s Test, when English bowlers seasoned in those conditions could hardly get the ball to wobble. An examination of the ball after the match showed no use of any foreign substance, and Imran attributed the difference in swing to the Pakistani bowlers being ‘more delicate polishers of the ball.’
“It looked like a dog had chewed it”
When Imran took six for six from 23 deliveries, including a hat-trick, for Sussex against Warwickshire in 1983, umpire Don Oslear voiced his suspicions. Although Alvin Kallicharran, who saw the destruction from the non-striker’s end, deemed it the best bowling he had ever seen, others were not that effusive. England seamer Chris Old told the Daily Mirror, “I saw the ball [Imran] had tampered with, and it looked like a dog had chewed it.”
According to Oslear, “This was the first time I had seen one side of the ball scratched and torn with pieces of leather ripped out. The quarter seam had been opened up at a point where it meets the stitched seam and it appeared that some of the stitches had been cut. This allowed a triangle of leather to be pulled up from the surface of the ball, it was a piece large enough to be gripped between forefinger and thumb, and by which the ball could be suspended.”
A report was sent to Lord’s.
“I would not have been surprised if they used knives”
Almost a decade later, Imran’s disciples, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, started producing late swing with the old ball. Not too far behind in this particular skill was Aaqib Javed. When New Zealand visited Pakistan in 1990-91, they were convinced that tampering was taking place. On their return, manager Ian Taylor said, “I’m not sure how they did it — whether they used fingernails or sandpaper. I would not have been surprised if they used knives.”
Chris Pringle of New Zealand had experimented with the same tactic during the series and had ended with seven for 52 in Faisalabad.
And much before Sohail, another Pakistan opening batsman actually voiced his reservations about the techniques employed. Surprisingly, this gentleman had been suspected of being a willing party to the same crime. Mudassar Nazar, now Pakistan national ‘B’ coach, declared after the New Zealand tour: “The outlawed practice of roughing up one side of the ball to enhance swing must be eradicated in Pakistan. It’s got to stop.”
Imran, who had not played against the weak Kiwi side, returned to take on West Indies when they visited later during the same season. He marshalled his wards with renowned attention to detail. Pakistan won the first Test at Karachi by eight wickets. Akram and Younis captured 15 wickets in the match and prompted comment from West Indies manager Lance Gibbs. However, according to the Pakistan Board secretary, after being shown the evidence at the end of the match, the former off-spinning great agreed that the ball used by the West Indians were in a much worse condition that the one used by the Pakistanis.
“This looks like one of ours”
In the following summer, Younis turned out for Surrey and picked up 113 wickets. Akram and Aaqib too played with success for Lancashire and Hampshire respectively. Umpire Don Oslear later noted in Tampering with Cricket, “Reports were received by the TCCB [Test and County Cricket Board] from a number of their contracted umpires about illegal interference with the ball by two or three sides, all of which contained a Pakistan Test bowler.” According to Vic Marks of Somerset, when an abused ball was handed around the table at the county captains’ meeting at Lord’s in 1991, many showed signs of recognition. David Hughes of Lancashire ‘gulped’ at the evidence. Ian Greig of Surrey blurted out ‘This looks like one of ours’ — in keeping with the straightforward traditions of the Greig family.
“Yes, I’ve told him to be more discreet when he does it”
Allan Lamb reported a relaxed exchange between Imran Khan and Robin Smith outside the wine bar at St John’s Wood before the start of the Lord’s Test against West Indies in 1991. Imran asked Smith, the Hampshire captain, how Aaqib was doing. According to Lamb: “Robin said, ‘Very well — he is doing a good job for us but has got warned on numerous occasions for tampering with the ball.’ Imran replied, ‘Yes, I’ve told him to be more discreet when he does it’”
“Wasim, Waqar and Aaqib Javed were in clear and direct contravention of those laws”
When the three young Pakistan bowlers were instrumental in the victory in the 1992 series in England, the fallout was as disastrous and much more far-reaching than the Mike Gatting — Shakoor Rana incident of 1987.
In The Botham Report, Ian Botham summarised it as: “At the heart of the controversy lay the conviction of myself, Allan Lamb and several other England players, not to mention Mickey Stewart [the England manager] that the Pakistan bowlers Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed tampered with the ball throughout. I remain convinced to this day that all three of them cheated by contravening the laws of the game… In my opinion, the actions of Wasim, Waqar and Aaqib Javed were in clear and direct contravention of those laws (42.4 Lifting the seam and 42.4 Changing the condition of the ball). Using their fingernails, they made such an unholy mess of the ball at times that a ball that had been in use for 40 or 50 overs looked as though a pack of dogs had chewed it.”
Across three Tests at Lord’s, Headingley and The Oval, the England side collapsed five times, accumulating 221 runs in these capitulations for the loss of 36 wickets. Akram and Younis claimed 24 of those wickets. In the fifth Test at The Oval, Mickey Stewart declared that he knew how they did it. He did not say more, but the implications were obvious.
Shambles or cover up or both
In the One-Day International (ODI) at Lord’s during the tour, the umpires were forced to take action. Because of rain, the match was extended into a second day, and during the lunch interval, umpires Ken Palmer and John Hampshire, with third umpire Don Oslear, decided to replace the ball. This was prompted by a complaint from Lamb. Match referee Deryck Murray was informed.
According to Oslear, “What followed was a shambles or cover up and most likely both, with neither the TCCB, which appointed the umpires, nor the International Cricket Council (ICC), which appointed the match referee, prepared to state why the ball had been replaced …” These curious methods of averting eyes and looking the other way are supposedly ways that cricket is kept ‘A Gentleman’s Game’.
However, the English dressing room was enraged and Botham tipped off the press. Lamb went further, writing his column for Daily Mirror giving it the provocative title: “How Pakistan cheat at Cricket.”
According to Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam, however, the ball was changed because it had gone out of shape, and the change had been made at the behest of the Pakistan team!
Akram maintains that it was the silence of match referee Murray that led the speculations and ball tampering allegations. However, very few believed no tampering had taken place.
“Silencing the Sacrificial Lamb”
Agitated by the controversy brought about by Lamb’s article, TCCB slammed him with a £5,000 fine and followed it up with a £1,000 fine on Surrey for ball tampering during the previous season. Donald Saunders of Telegraph wrote under a headline ‘Silencing the Sacrificial Lamb’: “Now we are left to conclude that talking to newspapers about controversial incidents in an international match is far deadlier a sin than cheating in a County Championship.”
“Why should it be such a crime?”
While Lamb was considering challenging the fine in court, he was warned by the authorities that his stand might result in diplomatic issues and involve race riots. And at this juncture of his confusion, the doyen of manipulating the condition of the ball, Imran Khan himself, delivered a telling reverse strike in an article headlined “Cheats Tag Rooted in Colonial Attitudes”.
According to Imran, “They accuse us of doctoring cricket balls, with one side of the ball apparently scratched by the bowlers. Why should it be such a crime to do that?”
Don Oslear’s reply to this almost inane question is documented in Tampering with Cricket as: “Because it is against laws of cricket. In my remarks to Lord’s about Imran in 1983, I did not accuse him of cheating, although the weight of evidence pointed that way and is now endorsed by his own admission.”
However, Imran was vehement about Lamb’s accusation — linking it to racist taunts from sections of Edgbaston and Headingley crowds in the 1980s, the infamous Sun headline ‘Paki cheats’ and even Ian Botham’s ill-advised comment about Pakistan being the place to send one’s mother-in-law. Lamb and Botham filed for libel against Imran, and famously lost the case.
Lamb however successfully defended the libel case brought on him by the original master of reverse swing, Sarfraz Nawaz. It was his claim that he had been libelledin Lamb’s original article in the Mirror. However, during the proceedings, the controversial Pakistan bowler dropped charges saying, “There are nine young girls on the jury who don’t know the difference between a football and a cricket ball. We should have a multi-racial jury, instead we have 11 English people.” Lamb was awarded the costs.
Allan Lamb (centre) leaves court on July 16, 1996 with wife Lindsay (left) and Kathy Botham [wife of Ian Botham] during the libel case in the High Court between Ian Botham and Imran Khan © Getty Images
“I don’t call that ball tampering”
In his autobiography, Wasim Akram devoted an entire chapter to denying the charges — naming the section ‘England’s Bad Losers’. According to the book published in 1998: “I’m certain the English camp tried to catch us out in 1992 because they failed to understand that they had been undermined by a radical new bowling technique… At various stages we all do little things to help the ball along. When I want it to get drier to aid reverse swing, I’ve thrown the ball on the square, into a rough patch… I’ve taken mud off the seam and raised the seam with my finger, but so has many another bowler. Sometimes when my grip isn’t too good, I’ll put mud or earth on the seam and wet my fingers, but I don’t call that ball tampering.”
It seems that Imran Khan has not only done a remarkable job passing on the secrets of the trade to his celebrated successor, but has also successfully handed him the baton of righteous indignation bordering on ridiculousness.
Well, the English, specifically Mike Atherton, were caught with dirt in their pocket only two years after all the furore of 1992. Since then, a full Test match between the two countries has been forfeited because of ball-tampering charges. A Pakistani captain has even chomped down on the cricket ball.
The controversy has been given a new shot in the arm, but Imran Khan is no stranger to it.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)