Wax on, wax off: Kookaburra's plan to kick COVID-19
Kit manufacturer developing a new product that could aid fast bowlers with sweat and salvia falling foul of health restrictions
5 May 2020, 11:10 AM AEST
Australian manufacturer Kookaburra has developed a wax applicator that would allow cricket balls to be shined without using sweat or saliva and believes it could be ready to use within a month.
The development comes after the Australian Institute of Sport released its framework for the return of sport, which explicitly calls out "no shining cricket ball with sweat/saliva during training".
The framework was developed with input from the chief medical officers of major sporting codes, including Cricket Australia's chief medical officer Dr John Orchard. It does not ban the use of sweat and saliva in a return to competition, but does rule it out in training, even once full training and competition can resume.
Banning the use of sweat or saliva to polish to the ball had Australia's fast bowlers on edge. Josh Hazlewood warned it "Test cricket would be very hard” without the ability to shine a ball.
"Bowlers rely on any sort of sideways movement in the air. If you didn’t maintain the ball at all for 80 overs it would be quite easy to bat after that initial shine has gone," Hazlewood said.
Former Australia quick Jason Gillespie labelled the traditional ball-shining practice "pretty gross" and suggested umpires could be asked to police the shining of the ball, while another ex-Australian quick Shaun Tait also expects the practice to be scrapped once games resume.
"I've never been a huge fan of the saliva on the ball, it's not very nice really," Tait said. "We have to open to some possible changes there."
But Australia opener David Warner believes a ban on using saliva would be unnecessary, arguing that being in close confines to fellow players would be just as much of a risk factor.
"You're sharing change rooms and you're sharing everything else, I don't see why you have to change that," Warner told cricket.com.au.
"It's been going around for hundreds of years now, I can't recall anyone that's got sick by doing that.
"If you're going to contract a bug, I don't think it'd necessarily be just from that.
"I'm not too sure but it's not my place to comment on whether or not we should or shouldn't (use saliva to shine the ball). It's up to the ICC and the governing bodies to decide."
The Laws of cricket state that fielders must not use "artificial substances" to alter the condition of the ball but the idea that umpires would oversee the process, or even use the sponge applicator on behalf of the bowling team, provides a possible solution.
Inspired by existing products used in the footwear industry, Kookaburra has been busy working on a compound that would help bowlers avoid becoming disadvantaged in a post-coronavirus context.
"We've been working on a product to replace the traditional methods of polishing a ball that could be controlled and managed by the match umpire; we have developed a unique wax formula for polishing a cricket ball," Kookaburra managing director Brett Elliott said.
Elliott said a pocket-size sponge applicator would enable umpires or players to apply a thin layer of wax which could then be rubbed and polished to enhance the shine on the ball.
While it is yet to be tested in match conditions, Elliott said it could be available in a month and be used as a short to medium term solution for shining the ball.
"The ultimate objective and challenge faced by manufacturers and administrators is to ensure the balance between bat and ball is preserved," he said.
Elliott also referred to an idea longer in gestation, a ball made from entirely artificial materials. In the past that has primarily attracted interest from animal rights group and vegan activists but has now entered the current pandemic conversation.
"Kookaburra has been working for several years on the development of a synthetic ball to avoid the use of leather. This ball would not require traditional polishing," he added.
The England and Wales Cricket Board use Dukes as supplier of their red Test balls, as do Ireland and the West Indies, India use SG and the rest of the full member nations opt for Kookaburra, which makes all white balls for limited-overs cricket.