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Why bowlers prefer saliva over sweat to shine the ball: Shami, Pathan, Harbhajan explain

Cricket will never be the same once the sport resumes at the international and domestic level following a lengthy hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Not only will the game take place behind closed doors, but there will be numerous firsts which cricket will witness starting with the Test series between England and the West Indies from July 8.

Players will have to follow specific guidelines and rules in order to prevent contracting the virus or spread it further if anybody tests positive for Covid-19.

Banning players from using their saliva to shine the cricket ball will be among the Standard Operating Procedures given to the teams and officials before the resumption of the sport.

Saliva ban has become the biggest talking point in cricket at the moment with majority of the past and present players stating that it will tilt the game solely in favour of the batsmen, especially in Test cricket.

The International Cricket Council-appointed Cricket Committee recommended the saliva ban as part of precautionary measure in the times of Covid-19. Sweat has been allowed for usage but concerns have been raised as to how effective sweat can be in the absence of saliva.

It is a temporary measure which will be lifted once the corona crisis ends but till that time, bowlers will have to make do with it.

India pacer Mohammed Shami and former seamer Irfan Pathan recently spoke on the matter and explained why fast bowlers prefer to shine the ball using their saliva instead of their sweat.

“We use sweat to make the ball heavier and softer but reverse swing needs saliva, it keeps the ball harder, shinier and the ball reverses also. Now the challenge will be not to use our saliva which will be our biggest challenge,” Shami said on India Today’s show Salaam Cricket.

Pathan explained that the ball won’t cut the air as effectively now with the saliva ban as it did before. He also urged the ICC to make sure that curators prepare bowling-friendly pitches now.

“We need to understand how much impact this will have on the game. The ball won’t cut the air as much now, sweat is not as effective as saliva especially when it comes to reverse swing.

“This will have a bigger impact in Test cricket and it is now the ICC’s responsibility to make the pitches livelier now, make it friendly for the bowlers, either turning tracks or something. Not make it flat for the batsmen for a while,” Pathan said on the show.


Interestingly, its not just the fast bowlers who are concerned about this new rule but also the spinners are worried that the saliva ban will force a change in their game as well.

“Bowlers will be at a disadvantage because we get a drift in the middle overs that we get by shining the ball using our saliva. If we don’t get that then it will be a problem.

“As a spinner if we don’t get a drift we won’t be as effective. We need a solution to this problem,” leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal said on Salaam Cricket.

His spin-bowling partner Kuldeep Yadav also concurred with Chahal’s point of view.

“The ball won’t drift at all, beating the batsman in the air won’t be possible. White-ball cricket is still okay but it will be very difficult in red-ball cricket,” Kuldeep said.

Legendary off-spinner Harbhajan Singh also weighed in on the debate.

“If there is no shine on the ball, and if it is only heavy with sweat, the ball won’t hang in the air or it won’t dip and it won’t spin also a lot. There will be problems in gripping also.

“Bowlers will be in more problem. Sweat can only make the ball shine when it is new. But not once it is old,” Harbhajan said on Sports Tak.


Former captain Sachin Tendulkar suggested the use of wax as an alternative to saliva and also floated the idea of changing the ball after 45-50 overs in Test cricket to help bowlers.

“In some countries players don’t sweat much because of the weather, so how will you shine the ball?

“For such situations, a box of wax can be given to the umpires, ICC should decide how many grams of wax to give. Per innings, the quota can be set, whatever the ICC deems correct. They can decide whether to change the ball after 45-50 overs,” Tendulkar suggested.

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