By James Marsh
This was a profound week for pockets’ long and controversial role in cricket as Faf du Plessis‘s zip misdemeanor against Pakistan led to Match Referee, David Boon, creating the ‘innovative’ new offence of accidental ball-tampering. Despite the likable South African being caught on camera rubbing the ball against his metallically-upholstered trouser enclave, the former Australian number three asserted in his judgment that the act was “non-deliberate”, in effect declaring du Plessis naive of his zipper geography, a verdict which hitherto would always have been fairly worrying for any man. A 50% of match fee fine ensued, closely followed by aghast claims of white chap favoritism from Pakistan fans and an irate tirade from Michael Vaughan on Twitter.
This deep hullabaloo was not always thus with cricket’s relationship with pockets, which once enjoyed an honorable status in the game. As early as 1899, their presence was inspiration as the Australian all-rounder Monty Noble scored 60 not out and a churlish, dogged 89 in an Ashes Test with a small silver duck in one of his, a bantery gift from his team-mates having nabbed a pair in the previous match. Steve Waugh maintained this tradition of superstition by always batting with a red handkerchief in his pocket, a gift from his grandfather and, albeit not recorded by Wisden, in one episode of Doctor Who, Peter Davison’s Timelord escaped from a perilous encounter by whipping a cricket ball out of one of his trouser pouches and hurling it at an Urbankan ship in order to propel himself back to the Tardis. I don’t know who the Urbankans are either, but I’m pretty sure Darrell Hair wouldn’t be that fond of them.
It is only in recent times that pockets have become a source of acrimony and indiscretion in the game. In 1994, England captain, Michael Atherton, was spotted by the most eagle of eyes, Richie Benaud, rubbing earth on the ball during a Test against South Africa. If you think Malcolm Conn’s ire at English players’ urinary habits is the epitome of righteous indignation, this is nothing as to the reaction to the Dirt in the Pocket affair, as Atherton was paraded before the press and nation by the then Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) dressed in metaphorical sackcloth and ashes. Coming a couple of years after the alleged ball-tampering of Wasim and Waqar during Pakistan’s acrimonious 1992 tour — and subsequent half a million pound libel case between Imran Khan and Ian Botham and Allan Lamb — Atherton was made the poster boy for moral squalor, as England’s cricket establishment collectively went after one of their own players falling to the depths of those supposed untrustworthy types from the subcontinent.
Denesh Ramdin, deservedly, was treated even worse when, upon scoring a century at Edgbaston in 2012 after some criticism of his recent displays by former West Indian luminaries, pulled out a dog-eared sign from his trousers which read, “Yeah Viv talk nah.” Richards’ response on TMS was more withering than pouring acid on a daffodil: “I set my standards a little higher than that,” he remarked laconically, leaving the Windies wicket-keeper to ponder whether schadenfreude was all it’s cracked up to be. In 2007, Alastair Cook apparently threw jelly beans, secreted in his pocket, onto the wicket to distract Zaheer Khan while he was batting in a Test at Trent Bridge. Cook has somehow ridden out the storm to go on to become his nation’s captain.
“ICC set to ban zips” was the headline on Cricinfo, which fleetingly gave hope to the notion that there might be a decent bit of satire on the sport’s premier website, but, alas, it seems as if it is merely the truth. Any zips on items of kit will indeed be barred in international cricket within a couple of years, a decisive intervention from the governing body which makes the suited types in Dubai look simultaneously both sensible and Orwellianly comic. Perhaps they haven’t gone far enough, though, and pockets themselves should be outlawed for the good of cricket’s future. On balance, they’ve clearly been far more trouble than they’re worth.
(James Marsh is a TEFL teacher based in the Czech Republic, although his real occupation is alienating those close to him by wallowing on statsguru. He blogs on cricket at Pavilion Opinions and can be found on Twitter at @PavilionOpinion)