Since March, cricket fans have been waiting like a wanderer in the desert for cricket to return. And it finally is.
In July, Windies will face England in a three-match Test series in bio-secure locations. And that will be followed by Pakistan touring England for three Tests and three T20Is.
But the lost time is not the only thing Covid-19 took away from cricket. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has already brought in some interim regulation changes to stop the coronavirus from inflicting further more damage than it already has.
The interim regulation changes brought
ICC has brought five interim regulation changes for now. The teams will be able to substitute a player in Test matches if they show Covid-19 symptoms, the teams will have an extra DRS per innings, there will be non-neutral umpires, the teams will be allowed to have an additional logo on their kits and last but not the least, players will be banned from using saliva on the ball.
Among the five changes, the last one is the most important and has further repercussions moving forward. The added DRS will be cut off when situations become normal and the Covid-19 substitute is nothing different from the concussion substitute. So, going forward, those will have little effect as things tend to go back to as they were. But, the ban on using saliva brings forward a whole lot of questions. For starters, how will the players shine the ball?
The saliva ban
It is no secret that shining the ball is a crucial part of red-ball cricket, if not the white. The ball shine is tampered by the fielding side to use it in their favour, especially to achieve reverse swing. Not just the reverse swing, but shining the ball keeps it lighter in weight, making it easier to swing and spin.
But now with the saliva ban, questions arise about how the ball will be shined. Many have put forward a suggestion of using a foreign object to shine the ball, for example - a piece of flannel.
This is an intriguing thought as to how the environment forces the game to change. What would have been a bannable offence even a year earlier, is now considered to be the only solution to a fear-stricken world.
Former National High-Performance Manager of the Bangladesh Cricket Board, Nazmul Abedin Faheem said that the saliva ban will be a disadvantage for the seamers.
"The seamers use the saliva to maintain the shine of the ball as it keeps getting older. When they will not be using saliva, the shine will last for a lesser period of time and thus the swing too. Seamers will have another disadvantage with the old ball. The saliva helps the older ball in the same way it helps the new ball and thus helps the older ball to reverse. Saliva smoothens one side of the ball fairly easily and thus helps to swing the ball, let it be reverse or conventional swing," Fahim said.
He also added that spinners will face some trouble adding some drift to their bowling but it will be the seamers who will face a bigger problem.
"The spinners generally use the saliva on their fingers to grip the ball better but they might reconcile that with their sweat. But spinners shine the ball too, to add some drift. The way seamers swing the ball, the spinners drift the ball in the same way. So, without using the saliva, the spinners will also face a problem adding some drift to their bowling. But relatively, the seamers will face a bigger problem as they will be less effective with the ball," Fahim explained.
Mohammad Salahuddin, a reputed Bangladesh coach, believed that not using the saliva will not cause that much problem to the bowlers regarding swing.
"I don't feel that there will be much difference. You can also shine the ball without using the saliva, by rubbing it on the kit. The saliva works better when the ball is old, to reverse swing the ball. But still, I think that if the ball is shined properly, then there will not be any big problems about the swing," Salahuddin said.
He further added that the saliva surely helps to shine the ball better but that can also be achieved without using the saliva. Salahuddin explained, "It is quite difficult to explain it scientifically. The ball reverses when there is quite some difference between the two sides of the ball. As the saliva works like a lubricant, it becomes easier to shine the ball, which is not possible with sweat. That is why everyone uses saliva to shine the ball. But that does not mean that the ball will not swing (because of not using saliva on it). If the players rub the ball properly on their kit, I think they will be able to keep up the shine."
The swing is not the only concern
The saliva ban might be a crucial change but there is another matter at stake when cricket finally returns - the safety of the players. The cricketers will have to be kept under constant safety measures to ensure that they do not fall victim to the deadly virus and that might just bring a change to their whole preparation for the game.
"Safety measures will have to be ensured for the players, from them leaving their home to returning there. How they will sit in the dressing room, how will they celebrate, how will they train - all of these need to be done maintaining every safety precaution. There will be a lot of challenges and all of these need to be tackled properly, maintaining safety guidelines," Fahim said on keeping the players safe.