Monday, August 21, 2006

Anatomy of a crime: Part I

Anatomy of a crime is a drama in two parts. It examines the events taking place at The Oval cricket ground in London on 20 August 2006. It is the fourth and penultimate day of the last test match in the series, and when the second session commences after lunch, Pakistan are in a dominant position and look likely to win the match. Then, things begin to happen.

PART I: Ball Tampering

Incident: During the 56th over of play, Umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove arrive at the conclusion that the ball being used by the Pakistani team has been tampered with. They confiscate the existing ball and ask the fourth umpire to provide a new selection of balls. The English batsman are allowed to select the ball that the Pakistani team should use. The England team is also awarded 5 penalty runs.

Analysis: The Umpires derive the authority for their actions from the Laws of Cricket, the official rule book which governs test match cricket. The relevant law here is Law 42 (Fair and Unfair Play). Law 42.3 states:

3. The match ball - changing its condition
...(c) The umpires shall make frequent and irregular inspections of the ball.
(d) In the event of any fielder changing the condition of the ball unfairly, as set out in (b) above, the umpires after consultation shall
(i) change the ball forthwith. It shall be for the umpires to decide on the replacement ball, which shall, in their opinion, have had wear comparable with that which the previous ball had received immediately prior to the contravention.
(ii) inform the batsmen that the ball has been changed.
(iii) award 5 penalty runs to the batting side. See 17 below.
(iv) inform the captain of the fielding side that the reason for the action was the unfair interference with the ball.
(v) inform the captain of the batting side as soon as practicable of what has occurred.
(vi) report the occurrence as soon as possible to the Executive of the fielding side and any Governing Body responsible for the match, who shall take such action as is considered appropriate against the captain and team concerned.

The umpires were within their rights to make an irregular inspection of the ball, as per Law 42.3(c). On making this inspection, they concluded that the ball's condition had been changed, and therefore Law 42.3(d) applied. Law 42.3(d) in turn gave them the authority to change the ball, award penalty runs, and later report the Pakistani team and its captain.

The question is, was their interpretation of the legislation correct?

Law 42.3(d) applies IN THE EVENT OF ANY FIELDER CHANGING THE CONDITION OF THE BALL UNFAIRLY. Was this the case here? Neither of the umpires charged any fielder of changing the condition of the ball, nor did anyone else see any fielder doing so. There were 26 TV cameras stationed and operational at the ground at the time. None of them recorded any evidence of a fielder changing the condition of the ball. In short, even if the condition of the ball had changed, there was simply no evidence that the change had been brought about by a fielder.

It may have been different if photos/videos of the allegedly doctored ball had been provided, allowing independent parties to see the condition of the ball, and determine for themselves if there was any evidence of tampering. The umpires and officials have not done so yet, and therefore we must turn to what information we do have available.

And what we know is, even if the ball's condition had changed, there was no evidence of a fielder being responsible. In this case, who is the burden of proof on? Does it like with the accuser, or does it lie with the defendent? Are Pakistan guilty until proven innocent, or innocent until proven guilty?

Ball-tampering is a grave and serious accusation in the world of cricket. As Simon Barnes of The Times puts it: It is not like calling a woman a tease. It is like calling her a whore. Well, there are women who are whores, but you’d better be bloody sure of your facts before making the accusation.

Ultimately, Law 42.3(d)'s application in this case rests on charging the Pakistani fielders with changing the condition of the ball, without presenting any evidence of them doing so. The Laws are silent on the burden of proof, but given the gravity of the offence, given that this is the section of the Laws dealing with issues of 'fairness', I lean towards the view that one cannot be called a cheat without any evidence. I therefore think that Law 42.3(d) should not have applied here.

However, the umpires applied Law 42.3(d), and awarded certain penalties. Were these applied correctly? The umpires can as per Law 42.3(d)(i), select a new ball to be used, comparable in wear to the previous ball. This was not the case at The Oval. The umpires, instead of making the selection, allowed the English batsmen to select the ball. This appears to be a clear breach of Law 42.3(d)(i) by the umpires. However, it turns out that ICC's own rules and regulations (refer modify the Laws of Cricket applying to Test Cricket and allow the batsmen at the crease to select the new ball. The application of the 5 runs penalty is more straight-forward and clear. The penalties applied were therefore consistent with the relevant Laws.