White cricket ball
Image Credit: Supplied

The lockdown due to the coronavirus has had a major effect on the sports lovers across the world. One never imagined life without following a live sporting event and for Indians, “Cricket”.

The month of April had become synonymous with the most popular league in cricket, the Indian Premier League (IPL). Apart from cricketers, the IPL had a phenomenal following all over the cricketing world. It was the centre stage of entertainment in most Indian homes when the live action on the field overcame the scripted production of the tinsel world.

The 13th edition of the IPL, one still feels, will get a window by the end of this year as the stakes involved for all concerned are too high for it to be shelved without a ball being bowled.

The uncertainty of the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic and the unavailability of the vaccine has made prediction impossible as to when cricket may see the light of day. The famous phrase of the entertainment world comes to ones’ mind, “the show must go on”.

One does realise the precarious situation that one is facing presently and with a complete lockdown of interaction between individuals, travel and transport the start of any cricket looks a far off probability.

The after effects of the virus, when things are back to normal, if and when it happens, does ignite some interesting thoughts.

One such topic that is being discussed extensively is the use of saliva and sweat on the cricket ball.

The saliva was one area as a sportsman that I personally detested. There were times, fielding close to the wicket, when I had to talk to the batsman to stop spitting and polluting the ground, where I was fielding. One did witness players freely spitting while playing football but the elite game of cricket had a different aura and class to it.

Presently, one is disgusted to see so many cricketers spewing their saliva at any given moment. One hopes that the laws of spitting and the fines for doing so are seriously implemented henceforth.

The other popular area of using saliva is by applying it on the cricket ball to keep one side of it shining. This, one is given to understand, helps bowlers to reverse swing as well as to swing the ball the conventional way. Unfortunately, one forgets that to master this skill one requires immense practice and many hours of hard-work.

In India, and many other countries, sweat is used more frequently than saliva to shine the ball. The saliva only plays a part when players need to mix it with some juicy ingredients from the mouth. A hair full of oil, lip balm and vaseline was enough to shine the ball when mixed with sweat. Oily hair is still very much a part and parcel of the game and has somehow escaped the regulators.

In the future, one will need to ensure safety and the only way this would be possible would be through the use of hand sanitisers. The umpire will need to monitor this and so rather than allowing any other material, the sanitiser usage on the ball after every over could be a good way to keep one sanitised and safe. This will also take care of the major issue that a bowler may face and that is to keep one side of the ball suitably polished.

During one of our Ranji Trophy matches many moons ago, one of our fielders had a handkerchief covering his nose and mouth. His explanation was that he was allergic to dust. We all had a hearty laugh, especially, as we were in the dusty bowl of India. Lo and behold, he was quickly branded as a “Bandit”.

We now take our thoughts to the possible scenario once cricket resumes, when every player and umpire look like bandits with a face mask (another money making brand endorsement opportunity). We did get a glimpse of cricket stars in various shades, shapes and styles of face masks that could become fashionable in a short film being shown on the prevention of the COVID-19 virus. A muffed appeal will be quite a hilarious sight. The hugging and high fives, unfortunately for the cricketers, will be a thing of the past.

As regards the batsman, he/she will have one extra accessory and that could be a high end face mask with a facility to hear or shout out a call through the helmet. The area where all the fielders will be happy about would be the gloves. This will make catching far simpler and one that will also protect an area one is always careful about and that is the fingers.

Cricket viewership in India at the stadium would only be affected during the limited overs international matches. The Indian domestic matches are barely viewed by spectators and even the domestic limited overs games are played with sparsely filled stands.

The Test matches also do not have an unmanageable crowd and apart from the limited overs internationals, cricket on the ground will not have a major impact where spectator viewing is concerned.

One factor for sure is that life and cricket post COVID-19 will never be the same again. But, cricket in any form is much better than none at all. One does miss watching the beautiful game called cricket, even though one may see 22 colourful branded face masked bandits on the field.

- Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer.