England were cleared of ball-tampering during the fourth Ashes Test in Melbourne after what their head coach, Trevor Bayliss, described as a "beat up" story and a touch of "Pommie-bashing" by the local Australian media.
A soggy fourth day in which only 44.1 overs were bowled, Alastair Cook broke the record for an opener carrying his bat with an unbeaten 244 and two Australian wickets fell, suddenly became abuzz with talk of tampering when Channel 9 showed footage of Jimmy Anderson running his fingernail down the quarter seam of the Kookaburra ball.
Both sides have been warned by the match officials about deliberately throwing the ball into the rock hard MCG pitch when fielding during the fourth Test – an attempt to scuff it up and induce reverse swing on an otherwise lifeless surface – but it was the images of Anderson that prompted a host of former Australian cricketers to hint at possible foul play.
"I'm not sure you are allowed to use your fingernail there," said Shane Warne, on the Channel 9 coverage, with co-commentator Michael Slater adding: "That's a no-no." On the official Cricket Australia website, no less, the former batsman Mike Hussey commented: "It didn't look great, to be honest. There might be a little bit of a 'please explain' there for Jimmy Anderson."
Mitchell Johnson, the scourge of England’s batsmen during the 2013-14 whitewash series, had also tweeted his surprise that Joe Root’s bowlers had got the ball to reverse through the air only 10 overs into Australia’s second innings, with these high-profile reactions then flying around various online news outlets.
Upon seeing the Channel 9 news headline on the TV in the England dressing room during the afternoon's rain-break, Bayliss immediately went to see umpires Kumar Dharmasena and S Ravi to establish whether they had any concerns about Anderson's actions.
Bayliss, speaking after play was called off for the day to leave England frustrated in their hunt for a win, said: “They must have already seen it because Kumar just said ‘don’t worry, there is absolutely nothing in it.’ His words were it was a ‘beat up’ – made up.
“You are allowed to clean the ball. Kumar had said to our guys – well, both sides – that there is no problem but he would like them to do it in front of the umpires so they can see and there is nothing untoward going on.
There is a bit of mud and dirt out there. Watching the footage, if [Anderson]was scratching it, it was the shiny side to get it to reverse – so he was doing it wrong.”
On the local coverage of the story, England’s Australian coach added: “We’ve had a good couple of days and there hasn’t been much positive press from their point of view. It’s a bit of pommie-bashing. We knew when we came here it would be 24 million versus 11. You’ve got to laugh it off.”
Ball-tampering became a hot topic in Australia 12 months ago when Faf du Plessis, the South African captain, was fined 100 per cent of his match fee and found himself the subject of hostile local coverage when footage emerged of him applying minty saliva from a sweet to the ball during the second Test of his side’s 2-1 series win.
Root was shown to be sucking sweets on the BT Sport coverage but with England cleared of any wrongdoing, it is unlikely to go further. That both sides have been spoken to by the ICC match referee Ranjan Madugalle about not throwing the ball into the pitch is not out of the ordinary, with the act of scuffing the ball up a common tactic given intention is so tough to prove.
Bayliss added: “I know at different times [the ICC]have tried to stamp it out, especially in the white ball games. But what do you do about a guy with a bad shoulder who can’t throw it back on the full? Or if going for a run out, you’re not necessarily trying to throw it on the full every time.
“That’s how [scuffing the ball] can be done. Once it gets a few marks on it you hope it starts to reverse. It doesn’t go all the time – who knows exactly why – but every team in the world does it so it’s hard to stamp out.” – Guardian service