The cricket toughies, the ones who engage in heavy sledging, the brave men who face fast bowlers slinging down bouncers at 90 mph, the ones who will field at silly mid on (a position close to the batsman) collapse in tears when caught cheating. Mind you, the rest of the world really seems to have it in for them; something of an over-reaction. Many of us and many cricketers are enjoying a temporary feeling of schadenfreude; others will be feeling fearful lest telephoto videos of them are re-examined closely.
It is OK to polish one side of the ball on your trousers but not OK to rough up the other side with sand. You can apply sweat or saliva but not sand. If I remember correctly, one side is already roughed up a little by having the makers name embossed on it. Balls are made to exacting specifications as to the weight and circumference. The seam has six rows of 68-72 stitches and they have to be used for 80 overs in first-class cricket. You are not allowed to pick at the seam to raise it up if it gets flattened in play.
The bowler wants the ball to bounce unpredictably or to swerve in the air or both. The batsman may then miss it or hit the edge and give a catch. The bowler must bowl on ‘a length’ which means getting the ball to bounce on a position on the pitch so that it rises up to the batsman at an awkward height and width.
Cheating in cricket is not new. I heard this story from a friend who was a GP in Gloucestershire from the early 1960s. An elderly patient consulted him and they got to talking about cricket, GPs were expected to get to know their patients in those days and there was time to do it. The patient related that, as a young man, he had played for Gloucestershire when WG was captain. WG (1848-1915) was known for his love of good food and wine at all times and especially during matches; he explained to the young player that there would be cherry pie for lunch.
We always have cherry pie for lunch when the opposition is batting. It is your job, as the youngest, to collect the cherry stones after lunch and put them in your pocket. When ‘over’ is called, you cross the pitch and accidentally drop a cherry stone or two on a length but make sure nobody sees you do it.
The idea, of course, that if a ball pitched on a stone, the bounce would be uneven and catch the batsman out. WG was known for his ‘gamesmanship’ and probably had a number of other tricks in his repertoire. He was, however, the most popular player with the spectators. Often the bill would read ‘Admission 6p. or 1/- (0ne shilling) if WG is playing.’
There is a fine line between gamesmanship and cheating and it is inclined to shift from time to time. It is a game for gentlemen but the use of sandpaper must surely be beyond the Pale; conduct unbecoming and all that.
WG Grace qualified in medicine from Bristol. So did my friend, he too was a good cricketer but not good enough to earn a living at it. However, he married WG’s great-niece to make up for it.