By Champika Fernando
As COVID-19 may force cricketers to end the age-old practice of using saliva to keep the ball in good condition, Sri Lanka team head coach Mickey Arthur says authorities should devise an alternative to balance the contest between bat and ball.
According to cricinfo.com, cricket officials are considering allowing the use of artificial substances to help polish the red ball under umpire supervision in Test cricket to end players applying saliva. This is so far banned in cricket and those found with using artificial substances have been dealt with severely but if the move gets the green light, it would lead to the legalisation of the once tabooed practice.
Arthur suggested a different option to overcome this. “Perhaps they can change the ball every 50 overs instead of 80 which is the practice at present,” he explained.
In Test cricket, a new ball is available after every 80 overs to the fielding side but they can decide whether or not to take it.
“This may not have much impact on white-ball cricket but in the longer formats, it’s important to maintain the condition of the ball,” he told the Sunday Times.
“So players use saliva to shine the ball in order that bowlers can move it in the air and get those lateral movements once it hits the pitch after the initial period of play.”
“If not, the batters will find it easy to play,” he explained.
“So I think, it’s imperative they come up with an alternative if saliva cannot be used due to health reasons.”
According to the report in cricinfo.com, the problem posed by the use of saliva to polish the ball is understood to be among the items raised by the ICC’s Medical Committee.
Accordingly, Arthur says the authorities could allow an agreed substance to be used to shine the ball in the presence of umpires.
“It can be vaseline or shoe polish or any other substance but it has to be uniform, though,” he added.
The ICC Cricket Committee is set to meet via video conference in late May or early June to discuss the matter. Any decision needs the approval of the MCC – the guardian of the laws of cricket headed by Kumar Sangakkara.
Arthur, who is stuck at his Colombo hotel since the lockdown following the virus breakdown, has been keeping a close watch on his charges, feeding them specific instructions to keep their fitness level up.
Since joining ranks with Sri Lanka Cricket in December, he has stressed the need for high fitness standards. As a result, players such as Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera have shed at least ten kilos and looked fitter and stronger.
“We have given them fitness exercises tailor-made to each and every cricketer based on the facilities they have,” Arthur said.
“This is one of the key aspects in this isolation period. They need to maintain their fitness levels so that when normalcy returns they can concentrate on their cricket.”
Given the current context, cricket is at a complete standstill. Its future will solely depend on how well countries could fight the deadly virus.
“I am sure cricket will come back strongly after everything is over,” Arthur said.
“It will take a while, but cricket will survive.”
The virus forced Sri Lanka Cricket to cancel their two-match Test series against England which was due to be played in March and also to cancel the limited over series against South Africa to be played next month. There’s also doubt about the Indian tour of Sri Lanka in June due to the safety and health concerns.