Johannesburg - For former Test cricket umpire Cyril Mitchley, last weekend’s ball-tampering fiasco at Newlands has a silver lining.
“You’re not going to see tampering now for at least six to 12 months,” he’s predicted.
“Then some stupid bugger is going to take it on himself on behalf of his team and the whole thing will start up again.”
Mitchley is in no doubt that ball-tampering is widespread – if not ubiquitous – in the international game.
“Those poor buggers have been nailed for what’s been going on for a long time,” he said. “The Australian board [Cricket Australia] taking action now has left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth – you can’t tell me that they haven’t known about this or had their suspicions for some time.”
Mitchley – nicknamed “Squire” by the nation – experienced alleged ball-tampering only once as a standing umpire. He recalled an Asia Cup final in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates between Sri Lanka – who were winning the match comfortably – and Wasim Akram’s Pakistan.
“A Sri Lankan wicket fell and I noticed that the ball wasn’t returned to the umpire,” he said. “Aravinda de Silva was standing close to me and said that I should keep an eye on what was going on because the Pakistanis were in a huddle. I wandered over – this is where a bit of common sense comes in – and I asked Wasim to show me the ball.
“One of your blokes has been fiddling with it, hasn’t he, I asked him, knowing that the ball was in Wasim’s hands, so I assumed he was the instigator. He shows me the ball and denies everything, but I had my suspicions. That was that and it went no further, but I didn’t like the situation and the ball’s condition.”
The phrase “common sense” is key. Mitchley says ball-tampering can be reduced if umpires are more observant and if what he calls their “game management” is slickly attentive.
But there’s a caveat.
“Not every antic can be spotted, there’s just too much to do,” he said, adding that when he was an umpire, match referees such as Clive Lloyd, Peter Burge, Mike Denness and John Reid would often nip things in the bud by having a quiet word with an umpire.
“On a few occasions, Clive would take the umpires aside at the pre-match meeting and ask us to keep an eye on things. That was just his way of getting us to increase our vigilance.”
For Barry Lambson, another umpire of the Mitchley generation but now an occasional Cricket SA (CSA) match referee, having captains on your side is key.
“You’ve got to have them involved. You get the other umpire involved if you suspect anything, and you talk to them and you tell them to deal with their players.”
There has been a fair deal of jingoism and self-congratulation around the behaviour of the “Newlands novices”, with Cameron Bancroft now entering the realm of meme fodder.
But Lambson cautioned against complacent judgments. He said he shuddered to think how CSA would have coped with a Proteas ball-tampering incident if had it happened in Australia, and pointed out several “unsavoury” incidents in domestic cricket over the years.
“We had an incident involving Quinton de Kock and Alastair Gray when the Cobras were playing the Lions at Newlands a couple of years back. And once, when the Warriors were playing the Knights in Kimberley, also about five years ago, one of the two sides refused to take the field after tea,” he said.
“Tampering happens – that’s the reality.”
Local cricketers of a certain generation will remember that the late Tiger Lance was infamous not only for the quality of his sledging, but for the standard of his work on a cricket ball. Lance would tear and separate the ball’s seam with the widget of a cool drink can in matches against, among others, the Australians.
Matches then, of course, were not televised, so ball-tampering went ahead without the cameras acting as judge, jury and executioner, a fact about which Mitchley is understandably uncomfortable.
He said he recognised that cameras could be a force for good, but he also subscribed to the view that umpires were being emasculated by technology, and playing a less active role in the game for fear of being exposed.
He said that, in the case of umpires from certain parts of the world, their aim was to stay on the panel rather than be overly involved.
“There are guys who are afraid to rock the boat and make unpopular decisions.”
Meanwhile, Altaaf Kazi, CSA’s communications manager, has resigned. This was confirmed by Thabang Moroe, CSA’s acting chief executive, yesterday.
During the second test against Australia at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth, Kazi and Clive Eksteen, CSA’s commercial manager, were photographed with three fans who were wearing Sonny Bill Williams’ masks.
The masks were a comment on David Warner’s wife Candice, who allegedly had a passing encounter with Williams before she and Warner were married three years ago. This, in turn, related to Warner’s corridor scuffle with De Kock outside the Kingsmead dressing rooms during the first test.
As the storm gathered pace after the ill-tempered first test, so CSA moved to institute disciplinary proceedings against Kazi and Eksteen.
Moroe confirmed yesterday, however, that although Eksteen disciplinary hearing would go ahead, Kazi’s resignation had made the disciplinary hearing against him redundant.
Kazi was approached for comment, but referred matters back to CSA.