HONOURS EVEN

Younis Khan celebrates his century in the third ODI in Southampton.-AP

English cricket needs strong young men who can bowl fast and stay fit, writes TED CORBETT.

The lesson from the one-day series between England and Pakistan is that it is time to change the law on ball tampering.

The moment which brought the issue to the fore came in the fourth Test at the Oval but the brouhaha which followed pictures of Shoaib Akhtar rubbing his thumb along the side of the seam caused greater damage.

In a discussion that lasted for two hours at the end of the match, right up to midnight, the match referee Mike Procter found there was no illegal action, the umpires agreed with him and as far as the cricket village was concerned the matter was dropped.

By that time the damage had been done, on television, in the next morning's newspapers and particularly in the minds of the public.

It was more evidence for the rest of the sporting world that cricket could not control its most contentious problem.

So what is the answer?

Bob Woolmer wants a law that says you can treat the ball how you like. Really! The present laws are heavily weighted in favour of the batsman but a ball roughed up to the degree that helps the bowler is not going to find favour with the authorities.

Actually, I am going to suggest a much more radical approach.

The present law is a mess; the present method of manufacturing a ball goes back into the dark ages; well, 1927 which is the last time the weight and circumference of the ball was changed. It is time we reviewed the whole procedure.

I reckon that ICC ought to go back to the manufacturers and ask for a new ball, made from whatever materials are suitable. Snooker took this action when balls were no longer made from the tusks of an elephant — they warped as they grew old — and they are now made from a highly developed form of plastic.

The ball should be either one that cannot be tampered with or needs no tampering.

I know that at this point in the article there will be those die hard cricket people who will be muttering "tradition" and "what was good enough for John Nyren, W. G. Grace, Harold Larwood and Fred Trueman is good enough for the modern generation."

Seriously, the current situation is too important for us to keep the same ball that was a deadly weapon in the hands of those guys.

The whole image of the game is being affected because one of the basic implements is failing to do its job properly. It is obviously too easy for a bowler to create a ball that will move through the air or off the pitch. What then is the purpose of producing a ball that only rarely helps the man who is wielding it?

So I will make a further suggestion that will cause the members of the flat earth society — those people who think that the world was a better place in the 16th century — feel dizzy.

Why not make a ball that helps the bowler.

It is easy to do. Manufacturers of lawn green bowls weight one side so that it will curve. Do that with a cricket ball and there will be no need to scratch or scuff or tear the quarter seam apart. The bowler will be able to turn the ball in his hand to make it dip towards the batsman or swing away towards the slips.

Those bowlers who are so strong that they can rip the heart out of the seam will be unemployed. Batsmen will no longer be able to bat all day on those perfect batting strips so beloved of groundsmen who prepare Test pitches.

Innings will be completed more quickly, bowlers will be less stressed and get fewer injuries and have longer careers. The whole game will be more enjoyable, runs will be worth more, batsmen will be more skilled.

Tests may even be reduced from five days to four which will mean a full series of five matches, a far fairer test of which side is the more accomplished.

And, don't forget, something has to be done if Tests are to be saved and not replaced by huge numbers of one-day internationals and Twenty-20 games. It will also stop those ridiculous scenes in which I had to take part at around midnight at the Rose Bowl waiting for referee Procter to decide the obvious; that the scene Sky TV showed repeatedly did not prove anything.

Sky must have decided that too for they caved in after a dozen or more performances of The Great Ball Tampering Scandal and invited their viewers to email their verdict. Hardly the most convincing way to deal with the big issue. The game deserves better.

The last one-day matches of the summer began with the Twenty-20 match at Bristol which Pakistan won by five wickets with 13 balls to spare. Marcus Trescothick led the way for England with 53 but scores of 27 by Jamie Dalrymple, an undefeated 24 from Michael Yardy and 13 from Chris Read meant that 97 for five became 144. The most important part of the Pakistan innings was that Inzamam-ul-Haq was present at the end. The captain always seemed to be around as Pakistan won.

No-one won the first one-dayer at Cardiff. England made 202, led by Ian Bell's 88; Pakistan galloped to 46 for one before the rain declared the match a no-result. The best of the match came in a few terrifying deliveries from Shoaib who went on to take four for 28 in the next match — Rikki Clarke and Darren Gough included in the 39th over — while Gough quit injured ahead of the third match.

That may be the end of Gough at international level and there seemed to be an air of "I told you so" about his departure. I don't understand that. Here was a bright, intelligent cricketer with a lot of bowling skill and a lot to say.

Some of it was boastful but that was part of the show biz side of Gough. I loved dealing with him for more than 12 years and frankly the present bunch of media-trained, inhibited young fast bowlers could learn from this extravert sportsman.

He will succeed on the stage or the clubs if he exploits his hit on Strictly Come Dancing. I wish him well wherever his career goes and I shall always remember him, his bowling and his "I'm ready for take-off" batting. The game needs its Goughs.

Pakistan won that second match by seven wickets; once again Inzamam was batting at the finish. After all the nonsense with the ball tampering was over Pakistan had taken what we imagined to be an unassailable 2-0 lead with two to play.

What a shock we had. Pakistan's 235 was never going to be enough in the fourth game but it required enterprise from Andrew Strauss and graft from Bell to win it and although the same could be said about the final game when Pakistan lost nine for 154 in their 50 overs there was an even greater scramble as England lost seven for 118.

The credit for that victory goes to Sajid Mahmood, who is being lined up as the natural replacement for Simon Jones. "He's got more going for him," says Michael Holding.

English cricket needs strong young men who can bowl fast, stay fit and who are both wise enough to ignore the chants of their fellow Moslems — who have told Mahmood repeatedly that he is a traitor — and who win the respect of old timers like Holding.

5th ODI, Edgbaston, Birmingham, Sept. 10

Pakistan 154 for nine in 50 overs (Younis Khan 47) lost to England 155 for seven in 31 overs (A. J. Strauss 35, K. P. Pietersen 34).

4th ODI, Trent Bridge, Nottingham, Sept. 8

Pakistan 235 for eight in 50 overs (Mohammad Yousuf 29, Inzamam-ul-Haq 47, Abdul Razzaq 75 not out, M. H. Yardy three for 24) lost to England 237 for two in 46.2 overs (A. J. Strauss 78, I. R. Bell 86 not out, K. P. Pietersen 41 not out).

3rd ODI, The Rose Bowl, Southampton, Sept 5.

England 271 for nine in 50 overs (A. J. Strauss 50, I. R. Bell 42, P. D. Collingwood 61, J. W. M. Dalrymple 62, Naved-ul- Hasan four for 57) lost to Pakistan 274 for eight in 48.5 overs (Younis Khan 101, Mohammad Yousuf 60, Inzamam-ul-Haq 44, S. C. J. Broad three for 57).

2nd ODI, Lord's, Sept. 2

England 166 in 39. 1 overs (P. D. Collingwood 35, R. Clarke 39, C. M. W. Read 30, Shoaib Akhtar four for 28) lost to Pakistan 169 for three in 36.4 overs (Younis Khan 55, Mohammad Yousuf 49 not out, Inzamam-ul-Haq 42 not out).

1st ODI, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, Aug. 30

England 202 in 49.2 overs (I. R. Bell 88, J. W. M Dalrymple 27, Shoaib Akhtar three for 45, Mohammad Asif three for 28) v Pakistan 46 for one in seven overs. Match abandoned due to rain.