Will saliva ban threaten cricket’s kings of swing? ICC to decide on Wednesday

King of swing Wasim Akram.

LONDON: An International Cricket Council board meeting on Wednesday could see the global governing body uphold a recommendation to prohibit the use of saliva in order to stop the transmission of the coronavirus. Bowlers traditionally get the ball to move or swing in the air, thereby making it harder for batsmen to hit, by applying shine to one side via sweat — which can still be used — or saliva.

However, as a temporary measure to combat COVID-19, the ICC’s cricket committee has suggested banning the use of saliva.

AFP Sport shines a light on the issue:


One of the most extraordinary individual performances in cricket history saw Australia swing bowler Bob Massie take 16 for 137 on his Test debut against England at Lord’s in 1972.

Yet Massie won just five more caps and took only 15 more wickets, with the bowler himself saying he had struggled on a subsequent tour of the West Indies where he adjusted his action and was never the same cricketer again.

Massie’s remarkable maiden Test and the lavish swing he generated at Lord’s led to suggestions he’d applied lip salve to the ball in order to maintain the shine — an accusation he has always denied. “Some days things go just right,” Massie said by way of explaining his remarkable introduction to Test cricket.


It used to be thought that as a cricket ball got older it would swing less. But a technique pioneered by Pakistan paceman Sarfraz Nawaz, partly in response to the slow and batsmen-friendly pitches of his homeland, led to the development of reverse swing.

“Just using sweat won’t be of much help because that will only make the ball wet and that shine will be missing,” said Sarfraz. Sarfraz confused a succession of batsmen by bowling in-swingers with an old ball.

He helped compatriot Imran Khan add reverse swing to his armoury and in the 1990s there were probably no better exponents than the Pakistan fast-bowling duo of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

In 1992, the pair took 43 wickets between them as Pakistan won a five-match Test series in England 2-1.


Over time, teams all round the world came to realise that in order to generate reverse swing it was vital the ball was ‘looked after’ properly, with one side polished and the other kept bone dry.  Swing bowlers such as Andrew Flintoff, Matthew Hoggard and Simon Jones were pivotal to England regaining the Ashes from Australia in 2005. But it was England opening batsman Marcus Trescothick who later revealed he had put Murray Mints sweets to good use in the field because sucking them stimulated most saliva, which could then be applied to the ball.


— It seems unlikely cricket chiefs will row back from the saliva ban but former South Africa paceman Shaun Pollock, even though he is a member of the ICC cricket committee, gave current swing bowlers a glimmer of hope by suggesting health checks in place for next month’s behind closed doors three-Test series between England and the West Indies might make it redundant.

“I think the environment that’ll end up being created is almost going to be like a bubble,” Pollock told the Following On Cricket Podcast.

“People will get tested, they’ll go into a two-week camp where they’re just going to sit and monitor how the conditions of their bodies change. 

“And if there are no symptoms, it doesn’t really matter about shining the ball then, because you’re in the bubble and no one you come into contact with will have coronavirus. “So you can just get on with normal proceedings.”

Meanwhile,  Cricket chief Anil Kumble hopes a ban on using saliva to shine the ball after the coronavirus shutdown could see a resurgence of spin bowling in Test cricket. The International Cricket Council is expected to order a temporary ban next week on using spit as a shining agent, as part of measures to get the sport restarted.

Fast bowlers could struggle to swing the ball under the new rules with Australian quick bowler Mitchell Starc saying the game could be come “boring” if batters dominate. But Kumble, the former Indian Test captain and now chairman of the ICC cricket committee that recommended the ban, is hoping spinners could play a bigger part as a result.

“You can probably leave grass on the surface or even rough it up and have two spinners,” he told an online forum on Wednesday.  “Let’s get spinners back in the game in a Test match. Because if it’s a one-day or T20 game, you’re not worried about the ball or shining of the ball.”

The former leg-spinner said he would love to see “two spinners playing in Australia, two spinners playing in England, which never happens.” And he said that ground staff could create pitch conditions to favour spinners. “In cricket you have the surface you can play around with and bring about a balance between bat and ball,” he said.  “All of us are yearning to start the game and not really worried about saliva or sweat or condition of the ball — we just want to play cricket.”

Indian fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah said earlier this week there should be an alternative to saliva when cricket resumes while fellow paceman Mohammed Shami said sweat is not a viable replacement. Australian ball manufacturer Kookaburra is developing a wax applicator to shine the ball, but the world body is reluctant to allow artificial aids.

Kumble believes that allowing an artificial substance on the ball would kill the creativity of the sport. “We’ve been very strict about substances that have been used on the ball,” he said. Cricket, like nearly all sport, was halted in March when India and many other nations ordered lockdowns.  —AFP

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