It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing
As bowlers try to find out ways to shine the ball, manufacturers say saliva not the only factor that enhances swing.Updated: Jul 16, 2020, 08:23 IST
Two questions thrown up by the first Test of West Indies tour of England: would the presence of the Barmy Army made a difference to England’s performance at the Ageas Bowl? No spectators is an unavoidable reality of these times, but what about no saliva? Did that cost James Anderson his swing, and, in turn, England the Test?
With the second Test starting in Manchester on Thursday, within four days of the opening game of the #raisethebat series, even the dust has barely got the time to settle in; but those rest days must have been spent by England trying to figure out how to get the ball to move a bit more without the help of that magic potion, saliva.
Data from CricViz shows that the ball did indeed swing less than it has before. England bowlers have averaged 1.07° of swing playing at home in the last five years, barring the last Test. At Southampton, Anderson, Mark Wood Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes could average just 0.69° of swing. West Indies bowlers did a little better, with a 0.95° swing average.
The manufacturers of the Dukes ball, used in all Tests playing in England, rubbished the idea that the saliva ban had any effect on the movement of the ball.
“(The first Test was) a good balanced game of cricket with weather playing a big part on the first two days. The saliva issue was a lot of fuss about nothing, pushed by ball manufacturers and players looking for excuses to cover inadequacy,” Dilip Jajodia, managing director of British Cricket Balls Limited that produces the Dukes ball, replied in an interview over email.
“The Dukes ball behaved normally as it always does. It swings, not just because of shine gained by applying saliva, it swings because it is constructed properly, has the right shape, seam and hardness retention. It’s not just shine that makes the ball swing.”
Weather did play a part in the West Indies bowlers rich returns; it was overcast for much of the first innings when West Indies were bowling, and their pacers, especially captain Jason Holder (who took a career best 6/42) used the conditions with aplomb.
When England came to bowl, there was enough sun to improve batting conditions.
For the England pacers, toiling under the sun and without recourse to saliva, sweat became an important ally.
“Sweat will have a similar effect (as saliva) on cricket balls. It will help the leather to shine,” Jajodia said.
Wood, who could take only two wickets in the game, gave a graphic description of the blood, sweat and tears that go into being an elite athlete.
“Back sweat has been the major thing at the moment with saliva going out the window,” Wood said on video conference. “Only your own...although we’re mingling the back sweat a little on the ball, I’ve got some of Jimmy (Anderson’s) and Jofra (Archer’s)…We didn’t get it right with the ball, they (Windies) got their line and length spot on. It’s a bit of cobwebs and rust.”
Wood’s teammate Dom Bess, the England off spinner, added that he was on sweat duty.
“It’s certainly different. The first Test was a challenge in how we could get the ball to swing and how we can look after the ball with just sweat. Being a very sweaty man on the field, I took on a bit of responsibility to shine on the ball,” he said.
“My legs are not used to shining the ball for five months. I had massive bruises on my legs. I guess the real challenge is make the ball not dull by putting too much sweat on it. It’s interesting. The first Test and even the warm-up game was an opportunity to try and find ways of keeping the ball in good condition.”
Discussions have been on to introduce an artificial shining material for the ball. Australian ball manufacturers Kookaburra came up with their version of wax polish but the suggestion was not entertained by the International Cricket Council.