Shahid Afridi’s ball-chewing isn’t the first time a cricketer’s mouth has been accused of breaking the rules. A few years ago, Rahul Dravid took some flack for shining the ball with saliva illegally enriched by a sweet he was chewing at the time. (How that affected his saliva’s potency still remains a scientific mystery.)
Over at Short of a Length, achettup tries to make a facetious argument in favor of ball tampering. Putting aside the jokes, there is a more difficult question here: why do we allow players to shine one side of the ball, but not pick at its stitching?
The typical answer has been that in cricket, we account for an extraordinary amount of latitude in certain areas — no set size for cricket fields, for instance, or standard pitch conditions– but we don’t mess with the equipment. But is that right? Didn’t Adam Gilchrist put something or the other in his glove during the 2007 World Cup final? Haven’t bats changed and evolved in the last twenty years (and why isn’t there a set bat ‘weight’)?
There’s another, simpler answer to the puzzle: the ball in a cricket match does a lot more than the bat. The ball drives the plot; the bat, like a fictional character, merely responds. The ball sets things in motion, even if it’s a batsman’s game after that. If bowlers were to decimate the ball — basically reduce it to pieces so it won’t bounce — then the game would end prematurely.
That’s better reasoning, but I’m still not satisfied. After all, balls are still battered against advertising boards, and they’re still replaced — sometimes by a mandatory policy — after a certain point. Perhaps we should allow for a more flexible standard: let the bowling side do what they want with the ball, until the umpires — who expect it every over — decide it needs to be changed. If we’re going to stack the odds against bowlers with friendly pitches and fields, we might as well throw them a bone once in a while.