A wise man once said that ‘Cricket was, is and will always be a batsman’s game,’ and he has been right pretty much for over 200 years now since cricket began. But it's high time that things start to change and what better way to start than removing one of bowlers’ close allies - saliva.
May I have your attention, please? Will the real ICC please stand up, please stand up? We're gonna have a problem here!
A body fluid, saliva has been more than just that on the cricketing field, with pace bowlers trusting it blindly for helping them get the extra swing and movement. Just before the strenuous COVID-19 break, it was one of the best friends or close allies for the pacers. But, even without any kind of cricketing action in the last three months, ICC have decided to take some drastic action, owing to the disease that has caused real trouble.
Consisting of 98% water, using saliva helps to change the condition of the ball in double-quick time. All that the bowlers have to do is just put their saliva on the delivery and rub it against their trousers, which will help them shine the ball appropriately. In the past, we have seen every top bowler - or a fielder, on their behalf - do it sometime or the other, only for the ball to start doing holy things in no time.
The vigorous shifting or rubbing just helps to create friction without having much wear on the ball. That, in turn, activates the fat in the leather and puts the grease on top - which is the shine on the ball. One side of the ball is nicely taken care by the bowlers, just like how ICC does take cares of their favourite possession - the batsmen. Without compromising on the hardness of the ball, it helps bowlers swing the ball the way they want it to, exactly, no compromise.
Now, since that is gone, their only friend who still continues to be alive is sweat, which too is a body fluid. However, the major difference between the two is that saliva is one of the carriers for the deadly virus. Unlike Saliva, sweat is not used extensively in cricket, owing to the fact that the latter takes more time and effort compared to the former. On top of that, in some of the harshest climates, in overcast conditions or cold conditions, it becomes difficult for the bowlers to trust on sweat alone for reverse-swing. Well, what are the options, really, for the ICC?
A lot, surprisingly, because why should the sport be lopsided. It is, in fact, astonishing that I have used the word lopsided when it is a complete mismatch. Every time we see a Test match that gets over in three days, the pitch automatically gets called for inspection because it's ‘poor’. In the past, we have seen two distinct high-profile Tests - India vs South Africa and India vs Australia - which have ended in just three days, with 40 wickets falling. The reason behind it was 'allegedly' simple - there was no fair contest between the bat and the ball. But then again, who are the ICC trying to kid? A pitch where there are 600 runs on offer is termed as a good one because it went till Day 4 but a pitch which has 40 wickets on offer is termed ‘bad.’
“Movement of the ball is the bowlers’ skill. It happens because of the shine on the ball. Saliva is a catalyst which can help you shine the ball. But essentially it is the skill of the bowler,” said Bharat Arun a few days ago on this issue. This is India’s bowling coach who put it down to the skills of the bowlers to perform beyond the limitations. Let’s be fair, in the world of cricket, bowlers are already oppressed so much that they need each and every tool - sometimes outside the legal purview, including maybe even using sandpaper to shine the ball.
I would not blame them going into the future, given that the game has become so one-sided that is unfair for the bowlers to take all the burden. Has the ICC ever tried to implement rules that could favour the bowlers for once? Well, it does not have to be dramatic or extreme. Would the ICC legalise ball-tampering? They wouldn’t and even if they would, it would cause a huge uproar for going against cricketing traditions. What traditions are we talking about? The game being one-sided; a look at changes that have favoured the batsman from time to time should tell you everything you need to know. Have we forgotten about the two-ball rule, which has aided in run-scoring?
In the legal purview surely, there are only few options available which could turn the table around and make it a level playing field. The first one being preparing a bowler-friendly wicket, which would favour the bowlers so much that they forget their dear friend, Mr Saliva. And it is not too much of an ask, considering that in the past, we have seen plenty of bowler-friendly wickets in domestic cricket, be it in India, England or Australia.
Moreso, a glance at the scorecards would highlight the amount of help the bowlers have had at the domestic level. If you are indeed putting it down to skills, then surely, the skilled batch of batsmen would get past this trouble with ease, cause they are skilled, aren't they? There is another option - a feasible one, which surely can revolutionize the game. Instead of using Kookaburra, the use of the Dukes ball could help the bowlers without using any kind of body fluids, thanks to its quality. In fact, their competitor, Kookaburra too, revealed, that they have been working closely on a substance which will help shine the ball. But whichever rows the boat, at the end of the day, it should be used to elevate the sport to the level that it was originally intended to be.
It is only high time that Anil Kumble-led ICC’s management takes a stand for the bowlers. While the rest of the formats have already lost the battle between bat and ball, it would be only time before it takes an ugly turn in Tests, so ICC, please take the right decision. If the COVID-19 break does do some good to cricket, it should be that the game would finally be made into a level-playing field and it is high time that we see that change. It should not be a whole new ball game, rather, it should be a whole new bloody game!
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