England tampering with the ball: Bob Willis

England skipper Alastair Cook denied ball tampering accusations made by Bob Willis and said: "The ball was changed because it was out of shape." (AFP Photo)

NEW DELHI/CARDIFF: For days now, people have been wondering why England's pace bowlers have been among the rare ones to extract swing with the Kookaburra ball in the ongoing Champions Trophy.

Now, the cat may be out of the bag with the hosts finding themselves at the centre of a tampering row after former England captain Bob Willis accused them of scratching the ball.

England have vehemently denied the charges, with coach Ashley Giles lashing out at Willis.

The alleged incident took place during England's defeat to Sri Lanka at the Oval on Thursday when umpire Aleem Dar and his colleague Billy Bowden ordered one of the balls in use to be changed while Lankans were batting.

"Let's not beat about the bush. Aleem Dar is on England's case," Willis told the Sun. "He knows that one individual is scratching the ball for England -- who I am not going to name -- and that's why the ball was changed," Willis said.

"Have you ever heard about the batting side or the umpire complaining about the shape of the ball?" asked Willis, one of only four England bowlers to have taken 300 Test wickets.

England skipper Alastair Cook, reacting to the allegation, said: "The ball was changed because it was out of shape. The umpires make these decisions and you have to accept them. Sometimes you don't think they are the right decisions."

But Willis, an England captain in the early 1980s, said: "How naive does Alastair Cook think we are? He didn't want the ball changed. So why was it changed? It is okay for the ball to scuff through natural wear and tear, but (it is) against cricket's laws to use fingernails or other means to alter its condition."

However, the match officials have taken no action. The ICC explained that as the umpires haven't reported anything and no team has complained, they were not planning to take any action.

England's limited-overs coach Giles said: "We don't tamper with the ball and I hope we can talk about something else. There are a lot of headlines about the wrong stuff. The ball was changed because it had gone out of shape. We play our cricket as hard as anyone else and the headlines are disappointing. There has even been mention of one of our players having a specific role. That player is an extremely good player and we'd like to let him concentrate on cricket."

Under current rules for ODIs, two white balls are in use for each innings. Balls can be changed for legitimate reasons, such as being knocked out of shape as a result of forceful hits by batsmen, and are often done so at the request of the fielding side.
However, on Thursday it appeared that it was Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara who complained about the condition of the ball when his side were 119/2 at the halfway stage of their reply to England's 293/7.

England were unhappy as their attack was starting to gain reverse swing - which was key to their opening victory over Australia and is aided by natural wear and tear of the ball - with captain Alastair Cook leading the protests. However, the replacement ball moved little and Sangakkara went on to complete a superb unbeaten hundred to guide Sri Lanka to victory.