By MITCH RODD
BOWLERS could be further disadvantaged in cricket’s lifelong rivalry between bat and ball, once sport gets the all clear to resume.
Mastering the dark art of swing bowling has been an endless quest for many a cricketer, and consequently some have used dubious methods to exploit it. As a result we can’t hear the word sandpaper without cringing.
However the legal ways of helping the 160-odd grams of cork, string and leather move those vital few millimetres in the air while being flung at an opponent at over 100 km/h could be in danger, due to this pesky COVID-19 virus.
A framework released by the federal government and guidelines drawn up by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), in consultation with medical professionals, recommends, among a number of items, implementing strict hygiene practices upon the resumption of sport in Australia.
The problem for cricket? Well, only bodily fluids in sweat or saliva can be used to help shine the ball and create swing.
For those unaware of why cricketers seemingly always rub vigorously at their pants, while simultaneously stimulating the economy of those ‘bright white’ laundry detergents, here is a basic analysis from a basic mind.
A ball that moves trajectory, rather then continuing straight ahead on it’s path, is harder for a batsman to hit. Call me Captain Obvious.
The key to making a ball swing is for one side to remain as smooth as possible and the other to be rough, thus allowing pockets of air to nestle within the battered leather skin.
While you would likely need some type of science degree to say with certainty what physically happens, the aerodynamic assistance allows the ball to deviate direction as it heads towards your opponent.
It’s kind of like trying to explain to someone how a refrigerator works. We know it keeps food cold and how to access it, but do we REALLY know how it operates? Outside of just plugging it into the wall.
As leather is a natural product, the shape and texture of the ball will evolve and change from abrasions made by contacting different surfaces, like a bat or the pitch. To help turn the ball into this mythological swinging beast, players are permitted to use sweat, saliva and rubbing the surface on a hand towel or clothes, to create shine.
Other methods of trying to achieve swing king status have been frowned upon, or even made illegal, over the years. As well as the aforementioned sandpaper incident from 2018, professional players have been caught using coins or shoe spikes to roughen the ball, or have added substances such as sunscreen or zinc cream to keep one side shiny.
Considering Cricket Australia’s chief medical officer, John Orchard, was one of a number of professionals who had input into the AIS-developed guidelines, it can’t really be argued that cricket has been short-changed.
On a positive note, cricket action in Sunraysia won’t return until October at the earliest, and hopefully restrictions may have eased by then.
To ensure everyone remains safe once sport resumes, minimising contact with the body fluids of others is absolutely the right call. It may just mean a change in mentality, and what is considered within the spirit of the game.
Will administrators consider the possibility of using artificial substances to reduce the risks associated with using saliva?
Apparently Kookaburra, an equipment company steeped in cricketing history, have been developing a synthetic wax-like product that could be used, but it is yet to be determined if it becomes legal, or if it would be provided by competitions or clubs.
Allowing sport to go ahead again while reducing risks to our health is the most important thing. However, in a day and age where cricket can be weighted in favour of batsmen, having bowlers lose a weapon from their arsenal would be a huge blow.