To spit or not: Bowlers face ‘saliva’ conundrum in post COVID-19 scenario
Bowlers using saliva to shine the ball is common sight in cricket but in a post COVID-19 world, they might have to reconsider the practice, making their lives tougher in what, many believe, has already become a batsman’s game.
In the wake of the 2018 ball-tampering scandal, the scrutiny on ball maintenance has only increased but using sweat and saliva on it remains legal.
Given the worsening COVID-19 situation, it is unlikely that cricket will resume anytime soon and when it finally does, former players, including Venkatesh Prasad, Praveen Kumar and Jason Gillespie, feel the game’s custodians might have to suspend the use of saliva.
“When the action resumes, they should use only sweat for some time as safety of the players is paramount,” former pacer Prasad, who played 33 Tests and 161 ODIs for India said.
He reckons it will be tough for the bowlers to stop using saliva to work up the ball but it is the need of the hour.
“When you are in the thick of things, you tend to forget it. You have to get the upper hand over the batsmen as you can’t use anything else besides sweat and saliva.
“The question is what do you do when the batsman is pulping you? You need to swing the ball and what helps swing the ball is the aerodynamics,” the 50-year-old explained.
In fact, it had become a big talking point in the Indian dressing room last month when they were to take on South Africa in a three-match ODI series last month.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar had hinted at limiting the use of saliva but the bowlers were not really tested on that front as the series was called off due to the rising threat from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without saliva, sweat remains the only other legal source to shine the ball but that can be tricky, according to Prasad.
“Because not everybody sweats. In that case, you have to keep throwing the ball to someone who sweats. I am someone who doesn’t sweat that much whereas Rahul Dravid does,” he recalled.
Praveen Kumar, known for his prodigious swing, said putting the right amount of saliva on the ball aided his art immensely.
“For the first few months after action resumes, they will have to ban the use of saliva. As bowlers, we will have to look for some other source,” he said with a laugh.
”It is very important for the fast bowlers, also for the spinners, as it helps them generate drift. For an off-spinner, the shiny side on the left will drift the ball away in the air before coming back. It tests the batsman,” he reasoned.
“For me, saliva was of great help while opening the bowling as well as reversing the old ball,” said Kumar, who took a five-wicket haul at Lord’s in 2011.
The world will never be the same even when it is able to overcome the current crisis. In such a scenario, the way the game is played is also likely to change.
Former Australia pacer Gillespie said time has come to reconsider the use of saliva in the game.
“I don’t think it’s a quirky question. It’s an actual genuine thing to be considered,” Gillespie, who took 259 Test wickets, told ABC Grandstand’.
“I don’t think anything is off the table. It could be a point where at the end of each over, the umpires allow the players to shine the ball in front of them but you can only do it then. I don’t know. Is it just sweat? Can you only use sweat?
“I don’t have an answer to that but it certainly will be a conversation that will be had. If you think about it, it is pretty gross,” said the cricketer-turned-coach.
Prasad, however, reminded that bowling is not just about using sweat and saliva, conditions also matter immensely.
“It doesn’t matter if you use saliva or not as long as you apply appropriate amount of sweat and shine it off. If the other side tends to get rough (due to dryness), automatically you get reverse swing.
“When I got 6/33 against Pakistan in Chennai (1999), the reverse (swing) happened because of the condition of the ball, pitch and the weather. So, it is not just about saliva. A lot of other factors also come into play,” he said.
He reiterated that the use of saliva should be stopped even though it would be difficult for the bowlers to let go of a practice they are so used to.
“For everyone’s safety, it should be suspended but if you are getting smashed, you will sub-consciously try to do your best to swing the ball and that might include (using) saliva.
“If you are not able to swing the ball like you used to, you risk getting dropped. How do you address that?” Prasad asked.