England drawn into ball-tampering row

England’s cricketers have been drawn into a ball-tampering row on a rain-affected fourth day of the fourth Test at Melbourne, after television footage appeared to show James Anderson digging his fingernail into the ball.

The incident was picked up by Australia’s Channel Nine commentary team early in Australia’s second innings, and circulated widely among the local media, including the news arm of Cricket Australia’s official website.

“I’m not sure you are allowed to use your fingernail there,” Shane Warne said during live coverage. His co-commentator, Michael Slater, added: “That’s interesting, you can’t get your nail into the ball. That’s a no-no,” while Mike Hussey predicted that Anderson might be asked to explain his actions to the match referee, Ranjan Madugalle.

The England management took issue with the tone of the initial reports, and the use of the word “ball tampering” was toned down in some headlines.

The fact that Anderson’s fingernail appeared to be working on the shiny side of the ball rather undermined the allegations that he was seeking to adversely alter its condition.

Graeme Swann, on BT Sport, explained that Anderson had been legitimately pushing down a loose bit of leather, in full view of the umpires, using the back of his fingernail so as to avoid transferring any moisture from his fingertips. Stuart Broad had earlier

An ICC spokesman later confirmed that no report had been issued by the umpires. However, both sides were spoken to about the tactic of scuffing the ball on the wicket ends when throwing it in from the outfield, a tactic that is commonly used by most international teams when attempting to hasten the onset of reverse swing.

However, on a tour that has already featured head-butts, beer throwing, matchfixing allegations and a sledging row, a ball-tampering rumpus is unlikely to die down quickly. On Twitter, Mitchell Johnson queried how England had managed to obtain reverse swing after just ten overs.

The incident had echoes of a similar flare-up in Australia’s 2016-17 home season, when South Africa’s Faf du Plessis was caught on camera sucking a sweet and rubbing saliva on the ball. On that occasion he was found guilty by an ICC hearing and fined his match fee.

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