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England's James Anderson (right) is one of the kings of swing in cricket today. At 40, the England seamer is proving to be a tricky customer to the batters of all ages. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Throughout the history of cricket, the bat has always had the edge over the ball. After various changes the game has gone through over the years, the edge is only getting wider. The ban on use of saliva to shine the ball, one of the raft of changes incorporated by the International Cricket Council (ICC) recently, seems to have blunted the main weapon of the bowlers by limiting their ability to get the ball to swing and reverse swing, tilting the balance marginally in favour of the batters. Has it in reality given them the advantage? Gulf News takes a look at the overall picture on the sticky topic of using saliva to shine the ball and how not using it will impact the bowling performances of the pacers.

Why do bowlers shine the ball?

The laws of the game are heavily loaded in favour of the batters as their margin of error is slim, one error and the batter’s innings can come to an end. Keeping the ball shiny, especially one side of the surface, will assist in the bowlers getting the ball to swing when it is relatively new and also enable it to reverse swing when it is old, inducing batsmen into false shots. Even the spinners benefit from the shine as they can create a drift before imparting the turn to spin a web around the batters. Saliva and sweat were the legally allowed polishing agents to keep the ball shining, but the former no longer falls into that category.

Why saliva ban came into effect?

To stop the transmission of coronavirus, the ICC temporarily banned the use of saliva. However, the sport’s governing body made it a permanent ban on Tuesday.

“This prohibition has been in place for over two years in international cricket as a Covid-related temporary measure and it is considered appropriate for the ban to be made permanent,” said a ICC statement, which also listed other changes to playing conditions that will come into effect on October 1.

“The saliva ban will probably help the spinners,” predicted the legendary late spinner Shane Warne “The ball will get rougher, a bit more coarse and it’ll be easier for the spinner to grip it, especially when there’s a bit of dew around,” he said before his tragic death.

Why is it important to keep the ball shining always?

On helpful conditions, the shine of the ball is not as critical as in unhelpful conditions. If the wicket has some grass covering and in places like England and New Zealand, the cool, windy conditions allow the bowlers to create the ball to bend in the air and off the pitch. But on the pitches of the subcontinent, where the wickets are mostly bald, providing no real assistance to bowlers, they have to rely on all their skills in their repertoire.

“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,” Jasprit Bumrah had said when the ban was coming into force.

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Indian pacer Jasprit Bumrah, who is preparing to bowl at the nets in Mohali, feels saliva is an important component to maintain the cricket ball. Image Credit: AFP

How does it help the bowlers?

Bowlers can either swing the ball in or away and the same goes with the spinners, who can either spin in or out. By keeping the ball shiny on one side, the pacers can turn the match on its head with their swing or more so with the reverse swing, when the batters are caught in two minds and the sharp, severe change in direction often catch them by surprise.

Pakistan bowlers were the pioneers in perfecting the art of reverse swing. Started by Sarfraz Nawaz, greats like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis did that time and again to swing the match in their team’s favour. There are many who could reverse swing the ball in world cricket today, but veteran England seamer James Anderson is the current king of reverse swing. In one spell in India, the pacer removed Shubman Gill and Ajinkya Rahane, both technically sound batters, who left the field in utter disbelief after seeing their stumps shattered. “If you can swing the ball, then you can reverse swing it,” was Anderson’s words. But for both, the shine and the seam position of the ball are extremely important.

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Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram Reuters
Robin Singh

Former India all-rounder Robin Singh, Director of Cricket at Emirates Cricket Board, feels there is hardly any difference between sweat and saliva, in fact he prefers the former.

“Sweat is more hygienic, so it is better. The ICC playing conditions with regards to the grounds are pretty good, so unless the wickets are too abrasive, the ball won’t lose its shine so easily. In Twenty20 overs, the impact won’t be felt due to the short duration. In ODIs two new balls are used, so it will not have a big impact while in Tests there is too much time on hand. In short, it should not be an issue,” he felt.

Still, it’s a lot of sweat and toil for fast bowlers.

Other rule changes:

Batters returning when caught: When a batter is out caught, the new batter will come in at the end of the striker, regardless of whether the batters crossed prior to the catch being taken.

Incoming batter ready to face the ball: An incoming batter will now be required to be ready to take strike within two minutes in Tests and ODIs, while the current threshold of ninety seconds in T20Is remains unchanged.

Striker’s right to play the ball: This is restricted so as to require some part of their bat or person to remain within the pitch. Should they venture beyond that, the umpire will call and signal for a Dead Ball. Any ball, which forces the batter to leave the pitch will also be called a No Ball.

Unfair movement by the fielding side: Any unfair and deliberate movement while the bowler is running in to bowl could now result in the umpire awarding five penalty runs to the batting side, in addition to a call of Dead Ball.

Running out the non-striker or Mankad out: The Playing Conditions follow the Laws in moving this method of effecting a Run Out from the ‘Unfair Play’ section to the ‘Run Out’ section.

Bowler throwing towards striker’s end before delivery: Previously, a bowler who saw the batter advancing down the wicket before entering their delivery stride, could throw the ball to attempt to Run Out the striker. This practice will now be called a Dead Ball.

Fielding penalty: The in-match penalty introduced in T20Is in January 2022, (whereby the failure of a fielding team to bowl their overs by the scheduled cessation time leads to an additional fielder having to be brought inside the fielding circle for the remaining overs of the innings), will now also be adopted in ODI matches after the completion of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League in 2023.