The allegation of ball tampering made by Bob Willis,one of crickets credible voices and one with a reputation to call a spade a spade,has stained the squeaky clean image of the Alastair Cook-led England side.
Though there happens to be no conclusive evidence to back Williss claims,it certainly has put a question mark over the reputation of one the fiercest pace attacks and that of its fine exponent of reverse swing James Anderson.
A closer scrutiny henceforth of the teams ball shiners Cook and utility all-rounder Ravi Bopara will be conducted by the umpires. Eyebrows were raised last week about Andersons ability to reverse swing the ball in relatively unhelpful conditions at Edgbaston versus Australia.
In fact,after the loss to England,Australias stand-in skipper George Bailey had said he was surprised that the ball went from swinging conventionally to reverse swing in an over or two.
Following Williss remarks,England will be looked upon with suspension when they reverse the ball henceforth.
Ironically,Willis,by raising uncomfortable questions,has given England a taste of their own medicine.
The Pakistanis,pioneers of what was largely seen as an unexplained phenomenon during the 70s and 80s,were accused of cheating by the English. As recently as 2006,Pakistan forfeited The Oval Test after umpire Darryl Hair levelled ball-tampering charges against them.
Englands players,now it emerges,may be no saints themselves. In fact,the player believed to have tampered with the ball in the latest incident,Bopara,had been accused of practising this dark art in the past as well. In 2009 when Bopara was playing for Auckland,the then Central Districts coach Dermot Reeve like Willis,a former England pacer had suspected that he was scratching the ball.
In 2010,Stuart Broad was accused by South Africas AB de Villiers of deliberately stepping on the ball to rough it up. Former opener Marcus Trescothick wrote in his autobiography that he used mint-laced saliva to shine one side of the ball when England used reverse swing to beat Australia in the 2005 Ashes.
Turn the clock further back and former captain Mike Atherton was caught with mud in his pockets during the Lords Test versus South Africa in 1994 and had to defend himself against accusations of ball tampering.
(Nihal is a senior assistant editor in New Delhi)firstname.lastname@example.org