Apart from Monty Panesar dealing with bouncers in his own inimitable way, the big story in recent times has been that of grown men using silicone (not silicon, by the way) to counter their Hot Spot problems. Channel Nine claims it's true; the players say it isn't. ICC backs the players; Hot Spot's Warren Brennan hints, but doesn't really say, that the players are using artificial means to get past the system and, as is often the case, observers like us are a little confused.
Step by step, here goes.
Harsha Bhogle asks on Twitter: "How did players know that silicone tape can trick Hot Spot - players don't have a Hot Spot camera to keep experimenting. Someone told them?"
True. But athletes, like the rest of us dealing with HR policies and the like, have always tried to find loopholes in the system, find ways around rules. Is that what's happening in this case, though? Kevin Pietersen asked the most obvious question. The same way that no mark on the bat might help avoid edges being detected by Hot Spot's infrared technology, no mark also goes against the batsman when an edge hits the pads and the batsman is given out lbw. Assuming the two incidents take place with more or less similar frequency, just whom is the silicone tape helping?
Also, it's a bit naive to believe players can't get around issues that stifle them, or work out ways in which they can get a little edge. Whether it's the Sri Lankans switching captains to avoid Mahela Jayawardene getting suspended during the World Twenty20 last year, or Trevor Chappell bowling underarm, or bottle caps being used to scuff balls or even Stuart Broad not walking because he realised the umpire had temporarily blanked out. If it helps, and no rule is broken, why not? And, like it or not, there were never really any 'good old days' when people didn't do exactly these same things.
If it can be done, it will be done. And that's true of all sports, I suppose. Footballers training to 'dive' on the field of play, for example. Before the bosses wisened up to the nonsense, who knows how much damage had been caused and how many important results reversed by divers? And how many transgressions are still taking place where, in fact, the referees' discretion is all there is to go by?
In a sense, it's not too different from the use of performance-enhancing substances. Science will continue to produce more evolved substances that are not yet in the banned list and also masking agents of the highest calibre. I am no expert on how this works, but reading bits about the supposed East German state-sponsored programmes, the Ma Junren fiasco in China and the entire BALCO story, it does seem like there are enough people trying very hard to help athletes - figuring out the silicone solution is child's play then, isn't it? None of this, of course, is to say that batsmen are using silicone - that's pending a probe, if any.
Mr Brennan might not be getting much work done if batsmen are, indeed, using silicone tape to 'mask' edges, but there's little he can do if the tapes are not illegal. They are not, from what I know, though certain things are, like the graphite thingamajig Ricky Ponting used to cover the back of his bat to generate more power in his strokes. The bosses thought that seemed too much like Dennis Lillee's aluminium 'willow' and outlawed it, even though the law states: "... the blade of the bat shall be made of wood ... the blade of the bat may be covered with material for protection, strengthening or repair. Such material shall not exceed 1/16 inches/1.56 mm. in thickness." Note that there isn't much here about the back of the bat or, specifically, the edges.
As such, the Kookaburra bats, manufactured in India by Sanspareils Greenlands, did not break a law, nor would the silicone tapes, or any other tape, be doing so. Batsmen, at all levels, have always used tape for the edges of their bats. People like me, who only ever owned one good bat, used mustard oil at the toe of the bat and put basic plaster on the edges. We didn't know if that helped or not, but everyone did it and so did we. The bats lasted long enough. If you own 50 bats, you might not care, and if you do, you most certainly won't use plaster but much more advanced tape.
The law can be changed, no doubt. But that's unlikely to happen because the ICC has, so far, said that the story is rubbish, and Simon Taufel has said that thorough, but random, checks of bats have revealed no silicone tape ever. [Eh, were they looking specifically for silicone tape? Why? 'Someone told them'?]
But till the law is changed, it will continue to appear as though Mr Brennan is only trying to shift the blame for Hot Spot's failings on other factors. The answer has to be in developing the system further because there will always be someone trying to stay one step ahead of it.