David Warner has done it again. He has made allegations of very serious proportions without evidence on hand. But can there be smoke without fire? There obviously had been whispers in the Australian dressing-room, and in cricket circles around the world too, about Dale Steyn’s destructive spell that cost the visitors the second Test. His quotes indicated that the Aussies had found AB de Villiers’ gloves messing with the ball. So did Steyn get reverse swing because the ball was tampered with? A bit of history can help everyone to draw their own conclusion.
First the backdrop. Chasing 448, Australia had quickly progressed along to 141/1. The only wicket had come via JP Duminy. Steyn had gone wicketless till then, having only collected a single scalp in the game. The ball was just over 40 overs old but had hardly misbehaved.
The 22-yard strip at St George’s Park was a sluggish one, prepared specifically to neutralise the pace and bounce of Mitchell Johnson, who had blown the hosts away with fire and brimstone in the first Test. With no specialist spinner in the mix, South Africa’s only solace lay in finding reverse swing. It also had to be Steyn with his express pace generating it for the required effect.
Almost out of nowhere Steyn started getting the scuffed-up ball to go Irish and how. The bemused trio of Clarke, Smith and Haddin had no clue what hit them as Steyn turned into a chestnut-haired Waqar Younis, making the ball talk on a lifeless pitch. It was a brief and violent interlude to an otherwise staid period of play. One that destroyed Australia in addition to raising eyebrows in their camp.
There were denials from the visitors’ camp, from Ryan Harris in particular, about their firebrand opener’s remarks. But Harris was cryptic in his views insisting that both teams had tried to ‘work’ on the ball for the sake of getting it to reverse. Incidentally, South Africa had spent a major part of last year playing Pakistan, the renowned masters at ‘taking care of a cricket ball’, on slow and dry tracks in UAE. It was ironically during one of those series in the UAE that Faf du Plessis had been caught tampering with the ball by rubbing it near the zipper on his trouser pocket. Warner’s utterances can be questioned but his doubts do seem justified.
Bharat is a principal correspondent, based in Mumbai