Dubai: The last thing the governing body of cricket should do is to legalise the use of any external object to retain shine on the ball in place of the usual practice of saliva or sweat, feels Venkatesh Prasad, a leading former Indian pace bowler and coach. The use of saliva or spit – an age-old practice among the fast bowlers to retain the shine on one side of the ball – has come under serious scrutiny ever since the coronavirus pandemic swept the world in recent months.
The International Cricket Council (ICC), in it’s last Chief Executives’ meeting on video conference on April 23, had brought up the issue with it’s medical committee to examine if the use of saliva will be permissible as and when cricket resumes later this year. The COVID-19 virus, it’s common knowledge now, is transmitted most commonly through droplets emitted through sneeze or cough.
According to unconfirmed media reports, the options of leather moisturer, wax or shoe polish to keep the shine of the ball in tact have been thrown in the air – and this is where Prasad – who formed a lethal new ball pair with Javagal Srinath - has a serious issue. ‘’It’s a ridiculous idea, to say the least, if such an idea had been discussed at all. The use of any external substance, be it a mint or whatever, is meant to be performance-enhancing and hence it’s almost like making doping legal in athletics,’’ Prasad said in a phone interview with Gulf News.
Coming back to the subject of keeping the shine on the ball without the use of the spit, Prasad says the other option is the use of sweat on one side and the practice of polishing the ball on the clothing. ‘’The problem in using sweat is since it contains salt, one side of the ball will become heavier – which is not the case with the use of saliva. On the flip side, it may help the bowler to derive reverse swing as the shiny side will be heavier.
‘’However, bowlers who are faster can only derive some benefit out of it but those who bowl medium pace and use swing as their main weapon – say someone like Bhubaneshwar Kumar – will get picked up by the batsmen easily,’’ said Prasad, a former fast bowling coach of the Indian team.
Drawing a parallel with the transformation in the game of hockey, Prasad said: ‘’The sport was dependant on skills while being played on grass but by taking it to astro-turf, the onus is now on speed and sheer strength. The art of swing bowling will take a bodyblow if rules are actually changed and saliva is banned.
Prasad’s comments found another backer in David Warner, the former Australian vice-captain who was one of the main fall guy in the ‘Sandpapergate’ scandal in South Africa in 2018.
“You are sharing change rooms and you are sharing everything else, I don’t see why you have to change that. It has been going around for hundreds of years now, I can’t recall anyone that’s got sick by doing that,” Warner said in an interview.
“If you’re going to contact a bug, I don’t think it’d necessarily be just from that. I am not too sure but it’s not my place to comment on whether or not we should or shouldn’t (use saliva to shine the ball). It’s up to the ICC and the governing bodies to decide,” he added.
How serious are the ICC to bring about any change in the present rules in view of the perception of a danger for the bowlers in applying saliva on the ball? Informed sources in the ICC felt it was ‘’still premature’’ to ponder over any changes. ‘’There were some discussions and the subject will again come up before the cricket committee, which has an enormous depth and experience in people like Anil Kumble and Kumar Sangakkara. Such things are discussed and debated at length before any proposals are finalised,’’
A legislation may take time, but it will be interesting to find out if a Josh Hazzlewood, Trent Boult or Ishant Sharma can stop using the saliva almost as a reflex action when they pick up the ball – as it’s a practice in their ‘muscle memory.’
What the law says
41.3: The match ball - changing its condition
41.3.1: The umpires shall make frequent and irregular inspections of the ball. In addition, they shall immediately inspect the ball if they suspect anyone of attempting to change the condition of the ball, except as permitted in 41.3.2
41.3.2 It is an offence for any player to take any action which changes the condition of the ball. Except in carrying out his/her normal duties, a batsman is not allowed to wilfully damage the ball.
A fielder may, however
22.214.171.124: polish the ball on his/her clothing provided that no artificial substance is used and that such polishing wastes no time.
126.96.36.199: remove mud from the ball under the supervision of an umpire.
188.8.131.52: dry a wet ball on a piece of cloth that has been approved by the umpires.
41.3.3: The umpires shall consider the condition of the ball to have been unfairly changed if any action by any player does not comply with the conditions in 41.3.2.