Ever since the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided to ban the use of saliva to shine cricket balls in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been a lot of concerns expressed by the cricket fraternity about how it could affect the balance between the bat and ball. Someone like Mitchell Starc even commented that the saliva ban will make cricket ‘pretty boring’ as the game will favour the batsmen heavily once the new ball loses its shine.
Nevertheless, the new playing conditions will be implemented in the upcoming three-Test series between England and West Indies, which will be the first international cricket competition after March. The series will be played with the Dukes ball since it’s in England.
Dilip Jajodia, the owner of Dukes ball manufacturing company British Cricket Balls Ltd, is the in-charge of preparing the balls for this much-anticipated series. When the entire cricketing world is going gaga over this topic of saliva ban and how it could provide an undue advantage to the batters, the man shows no concern whatsoever.
And remember, when it comes to an understanding of the dynamics of a cricket ball, there is hardly anyone better than Jajodia in the entire fraternity.
“Yes, I have been reading about all these comments regarding the saliva ban, and it’s a possible impact on the match conditions. I feel, the people from the southern hemisphere are more concerned about this,” says the 72-year old veteran Indian-origin British ball-maker over a telephone call from London.
“Look, as per my Dukes balls are concerned, I can assure you there will be absolutely no change in its behaviour in the coming series,” he informs.
“The key issue hovers around the use of saliva, right? But I would like to ask you, is it [shining the ball] enough to make the ball swing? I am afraid it is not. The ball needs to have the right shape, right hardness, right seam and of course, the bowlers need to have the skill.
“With our English balls, we have a proper hand-stitched seam. It is designed to swing as long as you have the skill. Also, the quality of the leather is premium, and we apply grease on it for waterproofing purposes.
“So, when you rub the ball on your trousers vigorously, the friction releases the grease to come to the surface, and you get the shine, and when you apply saliva on it, the process just speeds up. However, it is not impossible to shine the ball without it. Use sweat; it is not banned,” Jajodia suggests.
“You know, the great Malcolm Marshall used to carry a cotton towel on the field to rub the ball. I think in the coming series, the English and West Indies players should do the same. But here the key factor is rubbing the ball on cotton not on a polyester shirt as Joe Root does. Told them on numerous occasions that you guys are wasting your time [by rubbing the ball on a polyester shirt or trouser],” he adds.
The new regulations of ICC also mentioned that umpires might apply sanitiser on balls during the play if they think it requires disinfection. Here, some people believe the use of sanitiser in the form of either liquid or spray may have an impact on the behaviour of the ball. But according to the manufacturer, a quick wipe with any sort of disinfectant won’t be a cause of concern at all.
Meanwhile, Jajodia rubbishes the talks of using a special wax on cricket balls to maintain its shine, which Australian manufacturer Kookaburra claimed a few weeks back.
“Did they even check the rules before announcing it?
“The ICC regulations clearly explain that no foreign substance can be used on a cricket ball. So, all those talks of using so-called special wax on balls as a replacement of saliva are nothing but a PR stunt.
“Instead of spending money and time on such bogus ideas, R & D [Research and Development] department should work on improving the quality of their products. The white balls they produce for ODIs doesn’t even last 50 overs, and strangely instead of asking for a better product from the manufacturer, the ICC changed its rules and now using two new balls in an innings [in ODIs].
Coming hard on the Kookaburra balls, Jajodia presented a different perspective on the 2018 ball-tampering controversy.
“You know, we always blame Smith [Steve], Warner [David] and Bancroft [Cameron] for the ball-tampering controversy [Cape Town, 2018]. Yes, wherever they did was wrong. But what about the balls they were using. Those Kookaburra balls hardly do anything once it loses its shine and out of desperation, those players opted for such unethical measures to extract something out of those balls.
“So, actually I believe this unforeseen situation [saliva ban] will expose the lack of quality in products [cricket balls] produced by the other manufacturers,” he pointed out.
In hindsight, when it comes to Dukes, Jajodia needs no R&D to survive the saliva ban.
“We are making absolutely no change in our cricket balls for the upcoming series. As I have already explained, we have every base covered. Perhaps that’s why a lot of top foreign cricketers, which includes the likes of Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravichandran Ashwin had openly said in the past that they prefer to play with the Dukes ball.”
Meanwhile, it may be early days, but Jajodia’s theory seems to be working as West Indies all-rounder Raymon Reifer produced a brilliant spell of swing bowling with the old ball and took five wickets in the space of 11 deliveries during his team’s intra-squad practice game in Manchester last week.
The first Test of the series will start on July 8, and the entire cricket world is waiting eagerly for this much-awaited resumption of the sport.
(Sandipan Banerjee is a Kolkata-based senior cricket journalist who covers the sport in home and abroad. He tweets at @im_sandipan.)