Australian fast bowler Pat Cummins urged the ICC to sanction the use of an artificial wax like substance, which will aid in shining the ball if the use of saliva is not permitted. Lifeless pitches, short boundaries, bazooka bats and rules like limits on the number of fielders on the leg side behind the batsmen and limits on the number of bouncers, have already crippled the fast bowler. If you take away the use of saliva which helps in making the ball shinier on one side and hence heavier, which enables the ball to bend towards that side in the air, then the bowler feels he becomes cannon-fodder for the over-pampered batsmen, is the common refrain and somewhat justifiable too.
“If we remove saliva, we need to have another option,” Cummins told cricket.com.au.
“Sweat’s not bad, but I think we need something more than that, ideally. Whatever that is, wax or I don’t know what. We have to be able to shine the ball somehow so I’m glad they’ve let sweat remain,” he added.
In what is good news for Cummins and the other bowlers, Australian sports giant Kookaburra, a renowned cricket ball manufacturer, announced that they had developed a wax applicator that could allow cricket balls to be shined without using sweat or saliva.
But will the ICC allow it? They did hint recently that they could permit ball-tampering to a certain extent to help maintain the balance between the bat and the ball. But how much can they tweak the rules and make a complicated game even more complicated?
Cummins’fast bowling partner, Josh Hazlewood, also stressed on the need for some thing to shine the ball and also voiced the fear that giving up on old habits of using sweat and spit to make the ball shiny, will be tough.
“I’d like saliva to be used obviously but if that’s what they’ve put forward, I guess everyone is playing the same game,” he told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. “Once it comes back to you as a bowler, it’s second nature to just give it a little touch up if you see something, and that’s going to be hard to stop to be honest. And it’s a tough thing to monitor for sure,” the tall quickie further stressed.
It is not just the fast bowlers that are worried. Spinners are stressed too. Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh fears that when ball will get old, it will not shine with sweat, it will only make it heavier. “Saliva is thick and when we use it on the ball repeatedly, it helps the skin of the ball to shine. Sweat can make the ball wet and heavy but it cannot shine the ball especially when it is old,” he told You Tube channel Sports Tak.
A heavier ball is also not the best friend of a spinner as it will not hang in the air for a longer time and will hinder the loop that the spinner gets. Don’t all spinners just love it when the ball dips a bit, causing the batsman to misread the flight and get beaten in the air?
But if you look at cricket’s history, the bowlers have always evolved first in terms of coming up with innovative ways to dismiss batsmen. Steve Waugh came up with the back-of-the hand slower ball, a delivery he used lavishly in the end overs of the 1987 World Cup hosted by India and Pakistan, giving him the tag of ice-man, as he almost never blinked under pressure and always was skipper Allan Border’s go-to man in Australia’s victorious campaign.
On flat pitches in Pakistan in the 1980s, bowlers like Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz developed the skill of letting the ball get roughed up on one side and kept shining it on the other, to help them swing the ball in the direction of the shinier side. Hiding the ball in their non-bowling hand to stop the batsman from getting a good look at where the shinier surface was, the master (Sarfraz) and apprentice (Imran) collaborated stunningly to often leave quality batsmen dumbfounded.
They even passed on that art to younger bowlers like the two W’s, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, who terrorized batsmen and broke their hearts and toes and who passed it on to the Shoaib Akhtars, Azhar Mahmoods and Abdul Razzaqs.
Spinners too came up with googlies and the off-spinners like Pakistan stalwart Saqlain Mushtaq and Sri Lankan great Muttiah Muralitharan mastered the doosra, a delivery, which triggered debate due to the legality of the action with which it was bowled, but which went the other way after pitching instead of turning from off to leg of the right-hander.
That delivery enabled them to become key players even in the slog overs of a One-day match, considered to be a harrowing time for spinners, as batsman after batsman, often perished while trying to go for the big hit.
When batsmen had mastered the art of spotting the doosra or playing it late off the pitch, Sri Lanka’s Ajantha Mendis came up with the carom ball and destroyed India in 2008. India’s R Ashwin mastered it and became a key man even in the power play overs of a limited overs game, leave alone a Test match. Look at how many times he has bowled for CSK in the first six overs in the IPL. West Indian mystery spinner, Sunil Narine, perfected the knuckleball and earned his millions in the IPL.
In the history of cricket, it has always been the bowlers who have evolved despite being penalized with the ridiculous free-hit rule, the nonsensical front-foot no-ball rule, or the cringeworthy wide-ball rule down the leg side. But if you leave it to them, they will evolve again, saliva, or no saliva.
If reverse swing is not possible without shining the ball on one side and leaving the other side rough, they will find a new way to get wickets and make the game interesting.
Indeed, bowlers will rise and shine.