The bowling community might be breaking sweat over shining the ball in the absence of saliva, but Anil Kumble, the former India captain and chairman of the ICC's cricket committee, believes cricket should utilise pitches to even up the contest between bat and ball. The former legspinner, who is the third-highest wicket-taker in Test cricket, said that it was time for teams to consider playing two spinners even in Australia and England by roughening up the pitch.
"The advantage that cricket has over other sports is that there is an element of adjustable variance in the pitch, which not many sports have," Kumble said during a webinar, organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) on Wednesday. "You could manage the pitch in such a way that you could bring about a better balance between bat and ball."
Incidentally, Kumble made this suggestion a few hours after Sri Lanka head coach Mickey Arthurtold ESPNcricinfo that his bowlers preferred saliva over sweat to shine the ball. Arthur is part of the ICC cricket committee that recently recommended that saliva should not be applied on ball in cricket as Covid-19 is a respiratory infection and rubbing spit could result in spreading the virus, which is highly contagious.
However, bowlers remain unconvinced. In a chat with the former fast-bowling pair of Ian Bishop and Shaun Pollock recently on the ICC's video series Inside Out interviews, India quick Jasprit Bumrah said there needed to be an "alternative" to shine the ball other than sweat.
"Based on medical advice, we believe that saliva could be the major contributor to carrying this disease and that's why we banned the use of saliva, although it's second nature in cricket," Kumble said. "That's something that players will find hard to manage."
According to Kumble, the pandemic offered another opportunity to "bring spinners" back into Test cricket. Outside the Indian subcontinent, especially in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand or Australia) countries, the norm has been to include just one spinner on pitches favouring seam bowling.
"You can probably leave grass on the surface or even rough it up and have two spinners," Kumble said. "Let's get spinners back in the game in a Test match. Because if it's a one-day or T20 game, you're not worried about the ball or shining of the ball. Sweat can certainly take care of that.
"It's [a] Test match that that we're taking about and in a Test match why not get two spinners? [I] would love to have two spinners playing in Australia, two spinners playing in England, which never happens. Not often do you see that happening. Of course in the subcontinent, you have two spinners playing. So, in cricket you have the surface you can play around with and bring about a balance between bat and ball. All of us are yearning to start the game and not really worried about saliva or sweat or condition of the ball - we just want to play cricket."
'They've all been injured for the last three months'
According to Kumble, the other key factor team managements would need to pay close attention to is managing the workloads of the bowlers. Last month, while releasing guidelines for players returning to cricket at all levels, the ICC suggested teams would need to exercise extreme caution over bowlers' workloads to avoid serious injuries like stress fracture of the spine.
Kumble concurred with that. "That's why I believe that at training, they'll have to start slowly. Because it's not just about coming back and playing in a match," he said. "It's also about coming back from two-and-a-half months of lockdown. Especially if you are a bowler, you need to have those bowling overs under your belt before you start competing. So it's important that you slowly and gradually come back into the sort of normalcy that you can."
He also said that a safe way for squads returning to sport would involve training in a "bio-secure zone" followed by playing practice matches between themselves before playing a Test match. "I know England have announced a potential Test series against West Indies, subject to the government allowing them, but there again the players will have to have some sort of a cushion [or] a back-up in terms of loading up their body to be able to sustain a Test match because bowling 30 overs for a fast bowler… 30-40 overs for a spinner is not going to be easy," Kumble said. "And even for a batsman, the muscles which you use when you're batting are totally different. In a match situation, you're doing everything in a split of a second and you're not training for those, especially in a home condition. So, you need to build it up and probably have a few friendly games before you get into an important Test match."
Kumble also said one good way to build the players' confidence was to treat the current situation as if the entire team was returning from an injury, and handle the players with care. "It's like when someone is injured and he's coming back from injury, how do you monitor him? That's how you need to look at the entire squad now," he said. "They've all been injured for the last three months and they're now coming back into training. So, you need to slowly load them up and then start building their skill levels. I think it's mostly [about] the confidence. Once the players are out and training it comes back very quickly. It doesn't go away; you've been doing this for all your life. It's just a matter of being out there and training with the team. Within a few weeks, you'll be back to your usual self."