Looking After the Ball

Looking After the Ball
Looking After the Ball
©Patrick Latham

One of the main reasons that encouraged us to write our book, ‘A Leading Edge for Captains’, was our observation of the amount of control the junior coach has over the game, reducing the input the named captain has on the field.

Bowling changes, field placing, batting order, etc. largely seem to be organised by the coach of the side pushing the learning and understanding of the roll of the captain further down the road. This meant that the captain’s roll is rarely addressed in the younger age groups.

It is perfectly understandable though, as the limited amount of time we get to coach players means that sessions are spent on batting, bowling and fielding skills in the main. Situations that arise during games that are great learning opportunities are difficult to address in the moment and often detail/feeling/emotion is lost by the end of the game. The added pressure of parents wanting to take players away quickly at the close means that trying to address coaching and captaincy points then is both unwelcome and unproductive.

Whilst we identified captaincy issues as being a required area for development, as a bowler who relies on swing to be effective, it frustrates me to get my hands on a junior ball after 5 or 6 overs to see the state it has been allowed to get into. Why am I surprised? Again, how much time do we spend teaching young players how to shine and look after the ball?

Sadly, the lack of understanding of the importance of looking after the ball is not a problem reserved for junior cricket. Right through the leagues, the care and attention paid to the ball can hold a team and individuals back. Whilst we need to accept that in a number of cases, the quality of the ball in some leagues is not as good as those at the higher levels, more can be done to maintain some shine through looking after the ball in the field. Remember, you only get one – look after it!

Those bowlers with shorter run ups who require the ball back in their hand sooner leaves the team less time to work on the ball between deliveries, but this cannot be an excuse for a team to neglect the care of the ball.

At the top level, teams will identify a player who has a knack of being able to get the best out of the ball and he or she will receive the ball to work on after each delivery. At this point, I feel it important to draw your attention to the law surrounding ‘changing the condition of the ball’. There are plenty historical instances of players using foreign objects to alter the condition of the ball. Most recently three Australian test players were banned from cricket for being involved in altering the condition of a ball using sandpaper in South Africa. In 1994, the England captain was found guilty of using dirt from the pitch to rub into the ball in an attempt to alter the condition. Other players on the world stage have been suspected of using bottle tops, Vaseline, sweets, sun cream, hair products and other substances to help change the condition of the ball; all of which are illegal according to the laws and sprit of the game.

Law 41.3: https://www.lords.org/mcc/laws/unfair-play

The condition of the ball will deteriorate naturally over the course of the innings. How fast the ball deteriorates will depend on a number of factors. Most importantly will be the conditions of the wicket and outfield. In early season, the grass on the outfield will be long and lush, the square will be practically untouched with no dry and dusty used wicket ends and the playing surface itself will generally be soft, all meaning the ball will deteriorate more slowly.

The fielding side will therefore have a better chance of maintaining a good hard shiny ball for longer in the innings. Later in the season when the outfield is baked hard, the grass is burnt and short, the square has been largely used with plenty wicket ends for the ball to become scuffed and soft, the ball will deteriorate much more quickly.

Some bowlers will automatically favour one side over the other, assuming one to be the shiny side. For me, for some subconscious reason, when taking the new ball, I have always assumed the gold printed side to be the rough side. Some bowlers will wait for a few overs to see if any significant damage occurs to one side or the other, which may prevent the maintenance of a smooth sheen on that side. A seamer or swing bowler who can deliver the ball with an upright seam will land the ball on or close to the seam, which means less damage occurs to either surface.

The ball can be worked on from the start, rubbing the assumed shiny side to generate some heat in that side and also to start taking the lacquer off the ball to access the leather underneath. Again, personally I have always felt that generating some heat through friction in the shiny side helps the ball to move in the air, but I have no grounds to confirm this – but even a placebo effect can help the confidence!
Start looking at the ball closely from ball one.

If you find a scuff mark, use some sweat or spit on the end of your finger to apply to that spot and begin to work on that art of the ball, trying to return it to as good as new as possible before the next ball. Sometimes the scuff mark will take several deliveries to shine out, but keep working hard on any spots on the shiny side that appear. With the new ball bowlers, the person charged with maintaining the ball will have a little bit longer to work on it. Get the ball to that player as quickly as possible so that he or she can get to work. When applying moisture to a scuffmark, avoid adding too much. Soaking the shiny side makes the leather hard to polish.

The shining process is in different parts. The hard polishing being carried out on the back of the thigh or somewhere where pressure can be applied when polishing the ball. Often you will see Joe Root pulling his sleeve over his hand and twisting the ball into his sleeve with the other hand to generate the pressure and friction. When rubbed more gently on the front of the trousers, the ball is given a final polish generating a glossy sheen.

When spinners are bowling, due to the shorter run-ups, there is less time to care for the ball. It is important that the spinner is allowed to maintain his or her rhythm and tempo, receiving the ball back when they prefer, however the ball needs to continue to receive the care. Throughout the spinners over, there will not be much opportunity to work on the ball, so just keep an eye on it.

You will need to slow things down occasionally to repair damage but generally, work is done on the ball between overs when the spinner is on. Unless the umpire calls for the ball, which they may do between overs from time to time, get it over to your designated shiner and let them get to work as the field moves around.

Do what you can to make your ball last as long as possible. Work on the scuffmarks, shine and polish them out carefully where possible. The longer you have a nice hard shiny ball, the more effective your bowlers will be.

PL & WD

Cricket: A Leading Edge for Captains is available as a paperback (£12.99) and eBook (£3.99) from Amazon.co.uk. Books are also from Walkers Bookshops in Oakham and Stamford, and from CM Cricket in Stoughton, Leicester

© Cricket World 2019