As cricket gets increasingly skewed towards batsmen, hapless bowlers are sent on a metaphoric ‘hunt for leather’.
However, the pursuit of leather is a much more integral part of the sport, and is essential to the production of one of its primary components, the ball.
With cow hide being the preferred choice of material for cricket balls, many pressure groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) have long campaigned against the use of leather in the sport, the most significant being their protests outside Wankhede Stadium ahead of the 2011 World Cup final. While they have achieved considerable success in other sports, cricket continues to turn a blind eye to the issue.
The question of quality is another element of the argument forwarded by the proponents of this change. While cricket’s intrinsic nature depends on the innate qualities of the ball, synthetic balls are water resistant, making dew a negligible factor in playing conditions. Contemporary day-night cricket has long been plagued by dew, a factor that has influenced the result of many a crucial match. Peta says this to HT in an email: “Numerous cricket ball manufacturers already make synthetic cricket balls. With the technology available today, there is no reason why they cannot make professional-standard synthetic balls.”
Sohan Negi, a proponent of synthetic balls and the planner of an upcoming national programme of softball cricket says, “Synthetic material can actually better than leather; the quality of the game will not be hampered.”
The environmental hazards engendered by the production of leather are also significant. Peta adds: “Turning animal skins into leather requires massive amounts of toxic chemicals, and runoff from leather tanneries poisons rivers and streams. Tannery workers are exposed to chemicals that have been linked to cancer, respiratory infections and other illnesses.”
Peta had approached the International Cricket Council (ICC), making a series of points as to why the game should ban leather. Peta India CEO Poorva P Joshipura, who has played a leading role in the fight against leather in cricket, says, “Over 200 people wrote to the ICC after learning from Peta about the use of leather in cricket.” As of now, no material change has taken place.
In basketball, USA’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Women’s National Basketball Association have both successfully made the transition to synthetic material without affecting the sport’s quality and competitiveness. The then managing director of the NCAA, Greg Shaheen, credited Peta for the change. Mike Kuehne, director of marketing for leading basketball makers Wilson, had said that they wouldn’t have made the switch had the composite polyurethane balls not been better.
Football switched to synthetic balls completely in the 80s and 90s because leather balls get heavy in soggy conditions, while baseball made a brief switch in 2006 before reverting to leather balls. In June 2011, New York Yankees pitcher Brian Gordon became, according to Peta, the first player to use a non-leather glove in Major League Baseball (MLB).
The ICC, however, remains strangely cocooned. When contacted, they failed to come up with a proper response.