To help get the ball to swing, saliva and sweat cannot be entirely done away with, insist a few distinguished India cricketers even as the ICC contemplates legalising ball tampering by using artificial substances to prevent virus spread.

According to India spinner Harbhajan Singh and former pacer Ashish Nehra, saliva’s use in shining the ball was a “must.” Ex-opener Aakash Chopra, while being open to the idea, wanted to know where one could draw the line.

While discussions are at a nascent stage, questions are already being asked about what external substances could be used if ball tampering becomes legal? Is it going to be bottle cap in pocket to scuff up one side of the ball, vaseline to shine (made famous by John Lever) or chain zipper?

Basic necessity

“Get one thing clear at the onset. The ball will not swing if you don’t apply sweat or saliva on the ball. That’s basic necessity of swing bowling. The moment ball gets scuffed up from one side, sweat and saliva must be applied on the other side,” Nehra, who completely shot down the idea of using external substances, told PTI .

He went on to explain why vaseline alone couldn’t help a pacer. “Now let’s understand why do you need saliva? Sweat is heavier than saliva but both are heavy enough to make one side of the ball heavier for reverse swing. Vaseline comes into the picture only after sweat and saliva, not before that. It is lighter and doesn’t even ensure conventional swing. It can keep the shine but doesn’t make the ball heavy,” Nehra said.

Nehra then gave the example of Englishman Lever who created a furore during his team’s 1976 tour of India by applying vaseline during a Test match. “I can bet Lever used sweat and saliva and then applied vaseline . Vaseline only helps the ball to skid and nothing more. [If] you apply vaseline only, the ball will just go straight. You can check that with any fast bowler,” he said.

What’s the limit?

Harbhajan also agreed that if one had already chewed mint, which has sugar in it, it made the saliva heavier. But when it came to using external substance, he wanted to know what the options could be. “It’s not that Murray Mints can be used without putting it in your mouth. The coat of sugar on the saliva makes it heavier after one side gets scuffed. A scuffed-up ball is also good for spinners as it ensures a better grip than a shiny new ball. But my question is, if you allow, what’s the limit?

ALSO READ | Bowlers face saliva conundrum in post-COVID-19 scenario

“Suppose you legalise ball tampering and let people use bottle cap. Now the ball starts reversing from the fifth over. Is it fair? Or may be umpires come into play and they tell you now is the time when you can use external substance. I mean, in any case, taking saliva out of equation means taking swing out which may not be good idea,” Harbhajan said.

Former opener Chopra said unless the ICC specifies what the external elements that can be used are, “it’s all conjecture.”

“I always felt that allowing mint shouldn’t be a problem. But now they have gone to the extent that they don’t want to allow mint. But now if you change rule, ok let’s allow them to use finger nails, vaseline , now where does it stop God knows,” said Chopra.

“Spinners won’t mind as they do get a bit of drift if the ball is kept shiny from one side. So they won’t actually mind as long as you are not landing the shiny surface of the ball,” Chopra said.