Bowling with masks uncomfortable, says Ajit Agarkar | Cricket News

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MUMBAI: Spit has suddenly become the new four-letter word that’s most discussed in cricket. For a game that hinges so much on players applying saliva to polish the cricket ball, the Covid-19 pandemic and ICC’s new guidelines, calling for a ban on the use of saliva, has suddenly robbed the bowlers of the chance to maintain the ball so that it can swing or offer reverse swing once the ball gets old.

Bowlers though would have welcomed former India skipper and leg-spin great Anil Kumble’s (cricket committee chairman of ICC) clarification on Sunday where he said that the ban on saliva will only be an interim move, till effective medication or a vaccine is found, to curb the virus.

On Monday, former Pakistan captain and current coach Misbah-ul-Haq caused a stir by suggesting that if fast bowlers wear a mask, it will stop them from applying saliva on the ball instinctively.

However, not everybody is on the same page as Misbah. Ajit Agarkar, the former India pacer, feels the job of shining the ball is performed not just by the bowlers.

“What happens to fielders around who are habituated to spitting into their hands or using their fingers to apply saliva on the ball. It’s such a common habit. You’ve to make all fielders wear a mask. I mean, it’s the slip fielders or players at mid-on and mid-off who shine the ball mostly. So, it’s going to take an effort from everyone to get used to this new rule,” feels Agarkar.

The Mumbaikar also feels the ICC is defanging the fast bowler by taking away one of the primary weapons in his arsenal. “By stopping bowlers from applying saliva on the ball, you’re taking away one of the main things that the bowlers have going for them,” states Agarkar.

He also puts into question the very concept of wearing a mask while indulging in sport. “You have to check with a doctor whether it would be safe to run in and bowl with the mask. I’m sure that medically, this theory would be out of water. A mask wouldn’t be good for your lungs in that case. From a layman’s point of view, I can’t imagine running in and bowling with a mask. If you’ve to bowl 20 overs in a day, you can’t wear a mask and bowl 120 balls!”

Dr Aashish Contractor, director of rehabilitation and sports medicine at Sir HN Reliance foundation hospital, addressed Agarkar’s doubts by saying running in and bowling a delivery may classify as a strenuous activity but a bowler can keep his mask on.

He explains: “One thing is for sure, running with a mask on your face is not very comfortable.”

Contractor argues that all the theories we get from social media of people damaging their lungs while running with a mask may not be true.

“Ideally, if a person is involved in a running activity, he can run with a mask on. From whatever I have read, we cannot definitely say that the one or two deaths that have occurred during exercise were due to wearing of the mask, alone. There are forwarded messages which state that wearing masks while running outdoors will cause damage to a human lung, but there is no conclusive evidence of this. There may be other factors involved in the death of the individual which needs investigating,” says Contractor.

But Misbah’s suggestions made sense for Contractor from an infection point of view.

“A bowler may be habituated to applying saliva on the ball and a mask will prevent that instinctive activity.”

He also agreed with Agarkar on the comfort factor. “A fast bowler’s run up may be very uncomfortable with a mask on and that needs to be taken into account,” Contractor adds.

It needs a bowler though to validate the arguments for and against the use of saliva and Agarkar, a good exponent of both conventional and reverse swing, understands why the rule was made. “It is provisional due to the present situation and more than sweat, you use saliva to shine the ball. In places like England and New Zealand, it’s cold and you don’t sweat as much. However, if these are the new rules, we’ve to live with them,” Agarkar concludes.

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