“I’ve been doing it since the age of seven – to stop myself now is going to be very, very difficult,” says Lewis Gregory when asked how the impact of banning saliva on the ball will impact his season, if and when it finally gets underway.
The Somerset man is far from alone. Up and down the country, across all levels of the game, bowlers will be wondering how the new ICC recommendations will shape the game (not to mention the ball itself) in this new ‘saliva-less’ version of cricket.
Batsman, somewhat ironically, will be licking their lips.
On Monday 18 May, the ICC’s Medical Advisory Committee, led by its chair Dr Peter Harcourt, agreed to prohibit the use of saliva to shine the ball, ending a centuries-old tradition at a stroke.
All of which leaves some of the best-known swing bowlers in the County Championship wondering just what the future holds and how this public health move will alter the battle between bat and ball.
“The ball will still swing but I think it will be gentler, unless you’re the likes of Jimmy Anderson,” Hampshire’s Keith Barker tells The CC. “It will almost become a little bit more like the white ball game. The white ball stops swinging after a couple of overs and that will be the same with the red ball, unless there’s a strong breeze blowing.
“You would hope the wickets will do something to give you a bit of nip off the surface but this is going to fundamentally change the way a lot of bowlers operate. They’re going to have to hope the ball does something off the deck.
“It’s one of those things; you’re going to have to take away from the game to stand a better chance of playing. I can see why they would do it, but there are still going to be hands on cricket balls. So how much are they taking away from something happening and the virus being spread?
“The ball is still going to be passed around, people are still going to be touching the ball. With the amount of hand-washing that is going to have to go on, you’re going to have some very dry hands by the end of each session.
“Moisturiser sales are going to go through the roof.”
As county cricketers beat the path to the door of their nearest chemist to pick up a large tub of the stuff, along with the now regulation hand sanitiser, Gregory has also been left to ponder how he will change the habits of a lifetime.
“Everyone is going to have to adapt but it’s going to be tough not to do it, if I’m honest,” he says. “It’s what you do in terms of ball maintenance and getting moisture on the ball. It’s second nature, it’s not even something you think about.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how it’s going to affect the ball.
“You can still use sweat, I believe, so you can still get some shine on one side and roughness on another, but I think you’re going to have to get a bit more creative. If the ball doesn’t swing then you have to hope that reverse swing comes into it a bit more.
“Kookaburra balls are probably a bit easier than the Dukes to reverse but you could see a lot of runs being scored and the ball not doing a huge amount.”
The fear of an uneven struggle between bat and ball has led to Ian Chappell to call for an amnesty on ball tampering. That will have the purists up in arms – and Gregory isn’t sure what road that would take the domestic game down.
“It’s a tough one,” he says. “If you brought that in, where does it stop? There are natural ways you can try and get the ball in a condition that would help it reverse. I read somewhere that Kookaburra are trying to come up with a substance to help it shine, although we don’t know whether that will be legal or not.
“But I think it’s going to be very hot topic as and when red ball cricket comes back. It’s going to be very interesting to see if we can get the ball in a condition where bowlers can do some damage. If the wickets are flat, though, it could be an absolute run-fest.”