The use of saliva to shine the ball in cricket is a difficult habit to get over but it seems it is going to become a necessity whenever cricket resumes. In that scenario, does the game need measure (at the very least, interim) to help the bowlers extract swing?
It’s a debate that is gaining traction in the cricket community and India’s star pacer Jaspirt Bumrah is the latest to lend his voice, saying cricket should seek an “alternative” for shining the ball if the game’s governing body ban the use of saliva during the coronavirus pandemic. Handshakes, celebratory high-fives and hugs are also likely to be off-limits when international cricket resumes with safety protocols in place.
“I was not much of a hugger anyway, and not a high-five person as well, so that doesn’t trouble me a lot,” Bumrah said in an ICC video chat with the former West Indies pace bowler Ian Bishop and the ex-captain of South Africa, Shaun Pollock.
“The only thing that interests me is the saliva bit,” added the 26-year-old. “I don’t know what guidelines that we have to follow when we come back, but I feel there should be an alternative.”
“If the ball is not well maintained, it’s difficult for the bowlers. The grounds are getting shorter and shorter, the wickets are becoming flatter and flatter. So we need something.”
India’s bowling coach Bharath Arun has said he won’t mind an external substance as a replacement if it is used by teams across the sport.
The idea of using external substances to shine the ball in order to maintain a balance between the bat and ball, is now gaining momentum.
“As far as use of external substance is concerned, as long as it is same and uniform for all the teams, why not try it,” Arun told PTI during a recent interaction.
“Use of saliva will be a very difficult habit to get over but we will make a conscious effort during our training and practice sessions to get rid of this habit,” he added.
One of the world’s leading bowlers at the moment and IPL’s costliest foreign recruit Pat Cummins had also spoken in favour of the use of an external substance with saliva being banned.
“If we remove saliva, we have to have another option,’ the 27-year-old pacer was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au.
While the ICC has not banned use of sweat, Cummins wants some more initiative from the game’s governing body.
“Sweat is not bad, but I think we need something more than that, ideally. Whatever that is, wax or I don’t know what. If that’s what that science is telling us, that it’s high risk using saliva ... as long as we’re keeping other options open, whether that’s sweat or something artificial.”
Cummins, currently the world’s no.1 Test bowler, said sweat is a viable option to keep the ball shinning.
“We have to be able to shine the ball somehow so I’m glad they’ve let sweat remain,” he had said.
Spin wizard Shane Warne’s recent suggestion was to make one side of the ball heavier to aid swing bowling.
“Why can’t the ball be weighted on one side so it always swings? It would be like a taped tennis ball or like with the lawn bowls,” Warne is quoted as saying during Sky Sports Cricket Podcast.
“You wouldn’t have to worry about anyone tampering with it with bottle tops, sandpaper, or whatever. It would be a good competition between bat and ball,” Warne had said, reminding everyone about how the quality of bats have changed over years.
It was earlier reported that the coronavirus pandemic could lead to a major rule change in cricket. According to a report by ESPNCricinfo, once international cricket resumes, players could be legally allowed to use artificial substances to shine the ball in day games but only under the supervision of the umpires. This, as per the current International Cricket Council rules, amounts to ball-tampering.
The report has stated that administrators are “open to the option of allowing for the use of an agreed artificial substance to polish the ball under the supervision of the umpires”.
Only in the interim?
However, during a recent interaction on Star Sports, Kumble had ruled out the possibility of allowing an external substance despite the ban on saliva.
“We did discuss that but if you look back at the history of the game, I mean we have been very critical and we have been very focused on eliminating any external substances coming into the game whether you are literally legalising if you are looking to do that now which obviously has had a great impact over the last couple of years,” Kumble had said.
But the former India captain also explained that since it is an interim measure, they decided against the use of an external substance.
“ICC took a decision but then Cricket Australia took, even a more tougher stance on what happened during that series between South Africa and Australia (sandpaper), so we did consider that but then this is only an interim measure and as long as we have hopefully control over Covid in a few months or a year’s time then I think things will go back to as normal as it can be.”
Mitchell Starc, however, felt cricket could get boring if bowlers are not given options. He said swinging the ball in such a manner was a crucial part of the contest between bowler and batsman.
“We don’t want to lose that or make it less even, so there needs to be something in place to keep that ball swinging,” he told reporters in an online press conference.
“Otherwise people aren’t going to be watching it and kids aren’t going to want to be bowlers. In Australia in the last couple of years we’ve had some pretty flat wickets, and if that ball’s going straight it’s a pretty boring contest.”
Legalising ball-tampering is not a new school of thought in cricket. Former Pakistan captain Imran Khan, in a video that became popular after the ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town, had spoken about the controversial topic in quite some detail.
This Channel 4 interview from 1994 – which was conducted after Imran Khan’s book was released with admission about ball-tampering – is worth a watch because it shows how widely accepted ball-tampering is in the professional cricket world and why it will perhaps never go away:
In his column for ESPNCricinfo, Mark Nicholas wrote: “How about the umpires each carry a small jar - or pot, call it what you will - of wax, polish or cream, like a little jar of lip salve, that is available to the players at any time and maybe carried during an over by any one player who has licence to use it on the ball.”
Catching becomes difficult too
Providing a batsman’s perspective, England Test captain Joe Root said the ban of saliva can actually improve the skills of the bowlers, who will have to put more effort to get something out of the pitch.
“Not having the assistance that you might normally have means your accuracy has to improve,” he was quoted as saying by metro.co.uk.
“Guys will have to find another way to get something out of the surface, whether that’s a bit more effort, changing angles on the crease, using the wobble seam they might not have in their locker.
“It could develop our bowlers in a four or five-week period.”
Faf du Plessis and Brett Lee reckoned that such a rule will be hard to follow for players.
“When you have done something your whole life from eight, nine, 10 years of age, where you lick your fingers and you put on the ball, it’s very hard to change that overnight,” said Lee on Star Sports’ Cricket Connected show.
“So, I think there’s going to be a couple of occasions, or there’s going to be some leniency I think from the ICC, where there may be warnings. It’s a great initiative, it’s going to be very hard to implement I think, because cricketers have done this for their whole life.”
Du Plessis said that the rule will also be difficult to follow for the fielders.
“I’m used to taking a bit of spit on my fingers before I catch the ball at slip. If you look at someone like Ricky Ponting, he has a big spit on his hands every time he tried to catch a ball,” he said.
(With PTI inputs)