Safety-first approach towards gaining swing


10 Hrs Ago

THE SWINGING ball seems to be giving cricket authorities more problems now than opening batsmen.

The shining of the cricket ball to maintain its shine, as practised by fielding teams, is creating a problem because of the coronavirus.

Bowlers were allowed since time immemorial to polish the ball to maintain its newness. They did so on their flannel trousers – a material that aids polishing. The Englishmen wore that heavy material to ward off the cold weather. Batsmen and officials never complained, as they accepted the practice as fair play.

As time marched on, the ingenuity of bowlers discovered that the honest perspiration on their bodies contained certain body oils that, when rubbed on the ball, improved its shine. Furthermore, if one side alone was polished, the ball swung in flight away from the shine – with the right body action, of course.

Years afterwards, almost by accident, when using saliva to assist them in gripping the ball properly to avoid it slipping out of their fingers, they realised rubbing it into the side of the ball helped enhance the sheen. Again, there were no complaints.

Problems for bowlers began slowly when bowlers initiated lifting the seam of the ball using their fingernails, hence altering its shape, giving them an unfair advantage. In those days, umpires would ask the bowlers quite kindly to desist from the practice. If they continued, as some did, the umpire would call the captain of the fielding team and tell him to warn his bowler or he’d have to take him off. I witnessed this routine myself as it regularly happened when I played county cricket in 1968/70. The uplifted seam gave the ball more sideways movement off the pitch.

In 1992, when Pakistan toured England, there was much confusion about Pakistani players tampering with the ball in a way that gave their bowlers an unfair advantage. Waqar Younis, that great fast bowler in the Pakistan team, discovered while practising in the nets that when the rough side of the ball was scratched, as it could be with fingernails, crown corks, bits of metal etc, some benefit could be gained.

They scarred one side so badly that in certain areas, where the leather casing peeled, it left thin strips of cork exposed. When perspiration was then used on this jagged side, the weight distribution was altered. This created a dramatic effect on the ball in mid-flight for, instead of swinging the way intended, away from the polished side, it moved very late in the opposite direction, towards the perspiration-soaked tampered side of the ball.

The English batsmen complained, and the ball was checked by the umpires, who referred it to the authorities. The uneven side of the ball was so disfigured that the officials responsible for fair play decided that the shape and structure of the ball was compromised, hence constituted unfair play.

The intended outswinger to the right-handed batsman would suddenly change direction in mid-flight and swing into him.

In the commotion over this, cricket commentators looked for a word to describe it, because it was unusual, not being the normal outswinger, nor the accepted inswinger.

And this is how the term “reverse swing” entered cricket lexicon. However, it is used nowadays for almost all inswing deliveries with old or new ball, but that was its genesis.

The effect of the coronavirus on our lives on earth is changing many features of life: events, factors and issues are all being dramatically altered. As a consequence, at the present time, one does not really know what will become of this reference to the new normal. Certainly in cricket, with the West Indies tour of England looking possible, which is the first Test tour since the start of this phenomenon, many ideas are surfacing on what can be allowed to be done to the ball during play.

In pre-covid19 days when sweat and saliva were permissible for the fielding team to use on the ball to assist their bowlers and make the contest what it is, it is worrying, quite rightly, that the saliva from someone affected with the virus can be passed on to the other cricketers, umpires or anyone who comes in contact with the ball.

What is the solution? None has come about as yet and now the tour seems to be looming, the authorities at International Cricket Council are in a spot of bother.

I trust a safety-first principle will prevail.

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