LONDON: Pakistan's cricketers were embroiled in another Oval ball-tampering scandal last night after it emerged the New Zealand team raised concerns with match officials about the state of the ball during and after their World Twenty20 Super Eight clash on Saturday.
Less than three years after Pakistan forfeited a Test at The Oval when they refused to take the field after being accused of a similar offence, suspicion centred on the performance of Umar Gul, who finished with figures of five for six, the best in international Twenty20 history. New Zealand, who were skittled for 99, felt the seam bowler achieved excessive reverse-swing for a ball that was only 12 overs old, with team insiders privately claiming one side of it was completely smooth while the other had been roughed up. The match officials, however, cleared Gul and Pakistan officials deny the allegations.
"Gul's performance was extraordinary and the level of reverse-swing he achieved was unusual," said a New Zealand team spokesman. "We spoke to the match officials after the game to seek clarification as to whether this [reverse-swing] had been achieved by fair means. They considered the matter and said they had no concerns. We are happy to accept their findings and we are not making any accusations of foul play." Behind the scenes, however New Zealand are rather less sanguine. One source described the mood in the camp yesterday as "disturbed".
New Zealand were already in trouble at 72 for four when Gul began the 13th over of a game Pakistan had to win to stay in the competition but a superb, yorker laden spell of five for three in 14 balls left New Zealand in tatters. They will now need to beat Sri Lanka to stand any chance of reaching the semi-finals. Their captain, Daniel Vettori, alerted the on field umpires, Mark Benson of England and Australia's Rod Tucker, to the state of the ball when he came out to bat with his side on 88 for seven and New Zealand later took their concerns to the match referee, Ranjan Madugalle of Sri Lanka. But one insider said the two parties ended up having to "agree to disagree" on how a cricket ball could deteriorate so markedly after only 12 overs.
Yesterday the Pakistan team manager, Intikhab Alam, said: "It is disappointing to hear these things. Umar is a fantastic bowler. Not everyone can bowl a reverse ball. You've got to have a special ability to do that. He's quick and his action makes a lot of difference."
Pakistan's captain, Younus Khan, has suggested the ball's deterioration was a result of it being hit into the crowd, a version of events reportedly corroborated by Benson and Tucker. But the New Zealanders believe the pristine nature of one side of the ball made this explanation unlikely, and – rightly or wrongly – all eyes are likely to be on the Pakistan seamers when they take on Ireland at The Oval today.