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May 30, 2019 - July 14, 2019 - By keeping one side of a cricket ball shiny and smooth, bowlers can swing the ball in the air. After 60-70 overs the surface of the ball becomes unevenly battered, and reverse swing becomes possible.
It’s not against the rules to try and make the ball swing. A ball may be polished, providing an artificial substance is not used. A wet ball may be dried with a towel and mud is allowed to be removed under the supervision of an umpire. All of that is legal under the rules of the game.
Any other change to the condition of the ball is illegal, though that hasn’t stopped players from attempting to tamper with the ball.
Getting the ball to reverse swing -- which bamboozles a batsman with a late change of direction -- is such an advantage that players have regularly been caught tampering with the ball.
In 1994, England captain Michael Atherton was caught rubbing loose dirt from his pocket onto the ball during the first test against South Africa at Lord’s. Atherton claimed that he used soil to keep his hands dry -- he was fined but avoided suspension.
Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi was caught on camera biting the ball during a one-day international against Australia in Perth in 2010. Afridi was banned for two Twenty20 Internationals.
Most flagrant was last year‘s Australian cricket crisis in which Cameron Bancroft was caught red-handed attempting to doctor the ball with sandpaper on the third day of the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town.
Captain Steve Smith and Bancroft admitted to the offence at the end-of-day press conference, saying several Australian players had planned the tampering. Smith and vice-captain David Warner stood down from the team leadership the following day.
The International Cricket Council imposed minor punishments but an independent investigation by Cricket Australia later charged all three players with bringing the game into disrepute. Smith and Warner were banned from playing for a year, and Bancroft for nine months, from March 2018. They were also banned from holding any leadership positions for at least a further 12 months after their return.