The proven fact that the ball swings more when massaged by “saccharined saliva” has added to the cricket community of confectionery lovers. South African captain Faf du Plessis happens to be one of them. In the recent Test against Australia, he had a lolly on his tongue when he used his spit to shine the ball. Caught on tape, the ICC fined him, denying him his entire match fee. It was seen as a code of conduct breach, condemned as an unlawful act of “changing the ball condition”. Du Plessis says he did no wrong, he was merely shinning the ball, not doctoring it. He appealed. Now, the ICC isn’t pleased, an intriguing inquest is on the cards and, in all likelihood, cricket’s ever-changing rule book might see yet another rewrite.
As expected, the ICC is isolated; du Plessis has received overwhelming support. Aussie skipper Steve Smith said his team too shines the ball like the South African. The undetectable English sarcasm was hard to miss when English pacer Chris Woakes asked the ICC to ban candies. The ambiguity of the law has triggered wide-spread indignation. The ball can be glowed by salty sweat but not by sugary saliva. And what if a player shines the ball seconds after spitting out the toffee, doesn’t the “objectionable” sugar linger in his mouth and travel on to the fading lacquer? Next, will the umpire be strapped with rinse bowls or will the ICC call for “spit-tests” to check the sugar content?
Cricket, intrinsically an amateur game that not too long ago played on the belief that anyone wearing flannels was a gentleman, has repeatedly struggled to be part of professional sports where every advantage is ruthless exploited. No doubt, with time, the rules need to change. However, law-makers need to be sympathetic to bowlers, cricket’s under-privileged. Bats have become bigger, pitches died long back, bouncers are rationed, now can’t the pacer shine the ball? Let them have candies, at least.