Former South African pacer Charl Langeveldt lets us know the impact the ICC’s ban on saliva will have on swing bowling and how bowlers can overcome the new challenge.
It is a common sight to see cricketers using their saliva to shine the ball. Not a big thing so far but life has changed after the Covid-19 pandemic, and the practice cannot be continued for being unhygienic. While international cricket is finally back after more than hundred days, one of the biggest changes apart from being played in front of empty stadiums is the fact that the cricketers cannot use saliva on the ball.
The ICC’s decision makes complete sense as in the present times, hurling a ball covered in each other’s saliva around the field is potentially suicidal, whether it is a professional match or an amateur knockaround. Recently, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the cricket ball is a “vector of the disease”.
There is no doubt that applying saliva to shine one side of the cricket ball has been a must for the pace bowlers to survive in what has become a batsmen-oriented sport. Now that it is out of the equation, teams have to come up with alternate strategies to get the ball to swing around to keep the batsmen under check.
Charl Langeveldt, who is South Africa men’s bowling coach, in an interview with Betway, says: “The maintenance of the ball is key, particularly in England.
“It’s a big plus for one of our bowlers if he can use saliva – it’s a skill looking after the ball. We really focus on polishing it. Somebody gets assigned to looking after the ball and making sure that one side is shiny.
“That is especially the case in England, because they use the Dukes ball. Once one side of a Dukes ball gets scuffed up and you polish the other side, it does swing a lot more and it swings for longer.
“I don’t know how they’re going to do it. I’m going to be interested to watch how swing bowlers like Jimmy Anderson manage.”
To his credit, Charl Langeveldt had captured 116 wickets in 72 ODIs and half a dozen test matches he played for the Proteas not so long ago.
The former South African speedster says that putting saliva on the ball is “second nature”, and English bowlers have been desperately retraining themselves not to instinctively do it in practice during the last few weeks ahead of the first test against the West Indies.
English pacers Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes have already disclosed that kicking the habit is more difficult than they had thought of. However, Chris Woakes is confident that the behaviour of the Dukes ball would not change too much in spite of the restrictions.
Back in the month of May, Chris Woakes said: “Luckily enough, the ball moves around in England anyway.
“The Dukes always gives you a little bit of something, so hopefully that can continue. We will find ways to shine the ball, whether that’s being a little bit more aggressive on the shining side of things.
“It’s going to be interesting over the next few weeks, trying to figure out the best way to get the ball moving.”
It is no doubt that swing bowlers in England are helped by other natural conditions.
During the British summer, dark, gloomy weather is common with the cloud cover, and wind considered generally to have a significant bearing on the cricket ball moving in the air.
Charl Langeveldt has quite a lot of experience playing in England as he had stints with Somerset, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Kent in County Cricket. The former pacer says that the weather conditions played a key role when he was trying to swing the ball.
The South African said: “I found it a lot harder when the sun was out, especially down south at venues such as the Ageas Bowl.
“For some reason, it was hard to swing the ball there when overhead conditions weren’t favouring the bowler. Overhead conditions do help the ball to swing a lot more in England.”
It is no surprise, that England has produced one of the greatest swing bowlers in cricketing history in the form of James Anderson, who has captured more Test wickets than any pace bowler till date.
But Jimmy Anderson is not a one-trick pony, nor is he a mere product of his favourable home conditions.
Charl Langeveldt uses Anderson’s exquisite technique as an example to follow when trying to train the young South Africa bowlers he is working with now on how to swing the ball.
The former pace bowler said: “I use Anderson a lot because he’s got the perfect wrist. He bowls it out and in.
“You don’t want to change bowlers’ styles too much, but I think getting the wrist in a strong position is really important.
“If you look at a guy like Kagiso Rabada, he was more of a seam bowler when he came onto the scene, and he worked on getting the seam position and wrist in a stronger position to be able to swing the ball more.
“Then there’s Anrich Nortje, who bowls 140-145kph but needs a bit more variety. Anderson is a great example to these guys.”
While it is virtually guaranteed that good ball maintenance and helpful conditions enable bowlers to get some swing in England, the same cannot be said for other cricketing countries.
For Charl Langeveldt, India’s Bhuvneshwar Kumar stands out as one of the top swing bowlers he has ever seen because of his ability to move the ball around where other bowlers struggle.
Langeveldt says: “Kumar has been brilliant. He swings it both ways in Indian conditions and then when he came to South Africa he was successful.
“The subcontinent is totally different. They play with an SG ball, which swings for a short while but gets scuffed so quickly.
“You have to be more attacking, hitting the stumps and making the batsmen play, and the length is probably a bit shorter because the ball doesn’t swing as much.”
This is why it doesn’t surprise us that South African fast bowling great Dale Steyn recorded his career-best figures in one of the test matches at Nagpur about ten years ago.
Apart from being a deadly bowler in favourable conditions, Dale Steyn, who has so far claimed 439 Test wickets, is a master when things weren’t in his favour, too.
Langeveldt says: “Steyn was always close to the stumps. So you had to play at most of his deliveries.
“It wasn’t always big swing, but he forced the batsmen to play a lot more than someone like Jimmy.
“He adjusted to conditions, so if the ball was swinging too much he would come a bit wider and change the angle that he was bowling from. He was brilliant in that way.”
Given that the saliva ban is here to stay for a long time because of the coronavirus scare, it is that kind of adaptability that swing bowlers will need if they have to effectively use swing in cricket’s new normal.