New ball game

New ball game

Regional cricket functionaries support new ICC proposals to aid in limiting spread of COVID-19

Senior staff reporter

Friday, May 22, 2020

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THE impact of the novel coronavirus on sports has been far-reaching, forcing authorities to explore ways of safeguarding the health of participants while warily resuming the staging of events.

In cricket, one of the measures centres on banning players from using saliva to polish the match ball, given concerns about spreading the virus — which causes the COVID-19 disease — through bodily fluids.

Players on the fielding team shine one side of a cricket ball while the opposite is left to deteriorate through natural wear and tear. This process helps bowlers to swing the ball in the air, especially as it gets more worn.

Earlier this week, the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced that a committee convened to review regulations to mitigate coronavirus exposure had “unanimously” recommended the prohibition of using saliva on the ball.

The statement said players will be allowed to use sweat to shine the ball, since based on medical advice, it is “highly unlikely that the virus can be transmitted” in that way.

There was also a recommendation for “enhanced hygiene measures” to be “implemented on and around the playing field”.

The ICC said the aim is to help “protect the safety” of players and match officials. It further stated that the proposals will next month be presented to a committee of ICC chief executives for approval.

The steps taken have largely been welcomed in the cricketing world.

“Personally, I don't think that virus is going to go away any time soon, so it [is] good that we are going in that direction,” said former Jamaica Captain Tamar Lambert.

He noted that in cool conditions when sweating might be minimal to none, the fielding teams might feel disadvantaged.

“In England, especially early in their summer, you don't get people to normally sweat. Without that [using saliva] the batsman is going to benefit greatly.

“They say cricket is a batsman's game, well this one is surely for the batsman. But saying that, the bowlers or the fielding team will find other ways to make sure things work in their favour,” the former middle-order batsman, who is currently based in the United States, told the Jamaica Observer via a telephone interview on Wednesday.

On the flip side, Lambert, one of the most successful captains in the history of regional cricket, pointed out that perspiring in countries on the Asian subcontinent is unlikely to be a challenge because of the prevalent humidity there.

“I don't think people in India or Bangladesh will have a problem because once you land in those countries you start to sweat without playing cricket. It's that humid in Bangladesh and places like those, so I don't think those countries will have a problem,” he reasoned.

Regional cricket umpire Christopher Taylor reasoned that the change is inevitable.

“Entertainment is a necessity, so you want to see things getting to some sort of normality, but the safety component is just as important. I remember in the back end of the four-day competition in March when COVID was just really getting into the Caribbean territories, it was suggested that for the last two rounds players desist from using saliva on the ball and I think the players adjusted rather well,” he told the Observer.

The Jamaican match official said he expects it will be challenging to get players to snap the habit for good.

“I think not being able to use saliva is not the big deal; I think breaking players out of doing it is a bigger issue because you think of players now who might be 25 or 30, and the majority of them, from the age of 10, have been doing this as a regular custom. So how do you break players out of that? The hope will have to be that the fear of coronavirus will force them not to do it,” he explained.

“Obviously, in colder conditions like in England where you're not sweating, as much as possible a lot of dry shining will have to take place. I don't think this will impact the game to a major extent; it depends on the kind of ball,” Taylor added.

He argued that some ball brands can be effectively maintained by “dry shining”.

John Campbell, the captain of the Jamaica franchise during last season's four-day tournament, said he is willing to adjust to the proposed change.

“Everybody is accustomed to using saliva to shine the ball; we grew up on that. But for health reasons they are looking to take away that — well I have no problem with that. Whatever measure is put in place for cricket to be played I'm fine with it,” Campbell told the Observer yesterday.

There has been talk of using a wax applicator to shine cricket balls without saliva or sweat.

Under cricket's laws, players cannot apply artificial substances to the ball. Any such implementation would require the ICC's approval, with match officials likely overseeing the process.

To date, there have been over 300,000 reported coronavirus deaths worldwide resulting from approximately five million confirmed cases.

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