Former South African fast bowler Charl Langeveldt explains to us how the ICC’s ban on saliva will impact swing bowlers and how they can stay competitive in spite of it.
Over the many years, we have seen international and all sort of players use saliva to shine the cricket ball. Looked as an innocuous thing, with the Covid-19 pandemic hitting us, the practice of using saliva on the ball has got to be thrown out of the window.
International cricket has finally returned after more than a break of three months due to the Covid-19 outbreak with England and West Indies battling it out without any spectators in the stands.
The ICC’s decision on the saliva ban is a wise one given the current health crisis. The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, recently called the cricket ball to be a “vector of the disease” as it gets covered with the saliva of the players and changes hands quite often.
Rubbing saliva to shine one side of the ball has been a norm for pacers to survive in what has become a batsmen-heavy sport. Now that it is no longer allowed, teams have to think differently within the rules to get the cricket ball to swing around.
South Africa men’s bowling coach Charl Langeveldt in a recent interview with Betway, said: “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.”
For the record, Charl Langeveldt, who played quite a lot of ODIs during his time, had taken 116 international wickets.
The former South African fast bowler said that applying saliva on the cricket ball is “second nature”, and English bowlers have been retraining themselves desperately not to instinctively do it during their nets session ahead of the West Indies series.
English fast bowlers Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes have already revealed that putting an end to the old habit is more difficult than they had originally thought of. However, Chris Woakes believes that the behaviour of the Dukes ball will not change too much despite the new restrictions.
In May 2020, 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 a known fact that swing bowlers are doubly dangerous in England as they are aided by other natural conditions.
During the UK summer, dark, gloomy weather is a common sight with the cloud cover and wind generally thought to have an important bearing on the cricket ball wobbling in the air.
Charl Langeveldt has his share of experience playing in the UK thanks to his county stints with Somerset, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Kent. The ex fast bowler says that the weather conditions played a major role when he was trying to swing the ball in the country.
The former South African cricketer 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 comes as no surprise that England has produced a legendary swing bowler like James Anderson, who has taken more Test wickets than any pacer so far.
But James Anderson is certainly not a one-trick pony, nor is he a mere product of the favourable conditions he has in his home country.
Charl Langeveldt said that he uses the exquisite technique of James Anderson as an example to follow when trying to coach the young South Africa bowlers he is working with presently on how to swing the ball.
The ex-South African international 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 almost guaranteed that good maintenance of the cricket ball and conducive conditions help bowlers to find some swing in England, the same cannot be said for other cricketing nations.
For Charl Langeveldt, Indian new ball bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar is currently one of the best swing bowlers due to his ability to move the ball both ways in India and other places where other bowlers struggle.
Langeveldt said: “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 is of no surprise that South African fast bowling legend Dale Steyn had his career-best figures in a test match at Nagpur some ten years ago.
Besides being a dangerous bowler in favourable conditions, Dale Steyn is quite a master when things weren’t in his favour, too.
Langeveldt said: “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.”
With the saliva ban to remain for a long time due to the coronavirus crisis, it is that sort of adaptability that swing bowlers will require if they have to continue to swing the ball around in cricket’s new normal.