Cricket has favoured batsmen since inception. And in the COVID-19 era, where natural body fluids, including saliva, will not be allowed to shine the ball with, the bowlers are likely to be marginalised even more.
Now there are calls for ‘ball-tampering’ to be legalised to restore a semblance of balance between the bat and the ball.
A feeling of deja vu is unavoidable considering the uproar Sandpapergate involving two of Australia’s biggest names, Steve Smith and David Warner, caused not too long ago.
Former India paceman and Chennai Super Kings bowling coach L. Balaji fears for the bowlers in these times.
Polished and shiny
Balaji said to The Hindu, “From a young age, bowlers are trained to use sweat and saliva on the ball to keep one side polished, shiny and lighter while the other side gradually becomes heavier.”
Balaji, among the heroes of India’s historic Test series triumph in Pakistan in 2004, elaborated, “In fact, the entire team ‘works’ on the ball to ‘maintain’ it. And the use of sweat and saliva is mandatory and legal.”
The lanky former paceman observed, “For the pacemen to achieve conventional and reverse swing, or seam movement, and even for the spinners to get the ball to drift, the weight of the ball and how one side is maintained is vital.”
He added, “Once the ball is looked after, factors such as crosswind, headwind, bowling with the breeze and the cloud cover play a part.”
Balaji recalled a fascinating conversation with Pakistani legend Wasim Akram on the subject.
“Akram told me once the ball started doing something, the Pakistani pacemen would not even allow the fielders to touch a part of the ball with their palm.”
He elaborated, “Akram revealed the palm would be very sweaty and would make one side very heavy, disturbing the delicate balance needed for reverse swing.”
As it is
Balaji said, “You see, the ball only swings conventionally and reverses for a few overs and at that point, when the sphere reaches that state, you have to leave the ball as it is to inflict maximum damage during those phases.”
He added, “The heavy and sweaty palm would alter that delicate balance. It’s a science where the weight of the ball is crucial.”
What are the options before the cricketing world now? Balaji is against legalising ball tampering.
“When you start tampering, where would you draw the line? How can you say so much tampering is legal and after that it is illegal.”
He is unsure about ICC allowing external substances such as Vaseline to shine the ball. There have been cases when the ball has swung excessively with Vaseline.
Balaji said, “We have to go by trial and error method. Perhaps a substance such as a sanitiser with which you clean tables and other surfaces can be tried on the ball. But I am not sure.”
These are unprecedented times and the answers are complicated.