Why Do Cricketers Shine The Ball?

In the sport of cricket, keeping the ball in good condition is one of the most important aspects of bowling! A ball that has been looked after properly by the fielding side will be much more likely to move in the air, and much more likely to deviate laterally once it hits the pitch. This will usually lead to more wickets being taken by the bowlers! One of the methods that cricketers use to keep the ball in good condition is shining it by rubbing it on their trousers. But why exactly do they do this? Allow me to explain…

Cricketers shine the ball because this increases the chances that the bowler will get the ball to swing in the air. The shine is applied to one side of the ball, which allows that side to remain smooth and shiny. The other side of the ball is left to deteriorate naturally, and it becomes rough and dull due to repeated contact with the pitch and the bat. When the bowler delivers the ball, the air passes over the smoother side of the ball much quicker than the rougher side of the ball. This creates a pressure difference across both sides of the ball, meaning that the ball will swing in the air in the direction of the dull side.

Consistently shining one side of the ball also allows bowlers to get the ball to reverse swing as it gets older (usually after 35-40 overs). Reverse swing occurs because both sides of the ball have deteriorated. However, the side that we have been shining and polishing throughout the course of the match has only deteriorated a little bit compared to the side that has been left alone! Now, the rougher side of the ball has become so rough and degraded that it actually passes through the air quicker than the slightly shinier side. This causes the ball to swing in the direction of the shiny side instead!

How To Shine A Cricket Ball Properly

Being a fast bowler myself, I was always obsessed with keeping the ball in a good condition. It used to annoy me when I saw other bowlers on my team that didn’t realise the importance of keeping a nice shine on it! With that in mind, I’ll share a few tips of mine which I think will help you take care of the ball in the right way…

The Basics

Cricketers use their own saliva to shine the ball. If you’re just hearing this for the first time, it may sound disgusting! But trust me, you get used to it after a while. To apply saliva to the ball, I would first lick the tips of my index and middle fingers. I would then use these two fingers to apply the saliva to the parts of the ball that needed shining. If there are any scuffed or scratched areas on the shiny side of the ball, then you should work on shining and polishing these areas in between deliveries. Remember, we only shine one side of the ball! We want the other side of the ball to get scuffed and scratched, so you should leave that side alone completely. Once you have applied the saliva to the relevant areas on the shiny side of the ball, you can use the material on your cricket whites (trousers) to polish it. You do this by rubbing the shiny side of the ball against your trouser leg, often on the front or back of the thigh! This is why you’ll often see professional cricketers with big red stains on the front or back of their whites. Don’t worry though…I can assure you the stain will come off in the wash!

Keep The Ball Dry

This is an element of cricket ball care that doesn’t get spoken about enough. Ideally, the only moisture that gets applied to the ball will be the saliva that you apply to it in specific areas. We don’t really want any of our sweat getting on to the ball, and in a perfect world we don’t want the ball soaking up any moisture from the cricket field! Allowing the ball to soak up a lot of excess moisture can negatively affect its ability to swing!

To get as little sweat on the ball as possible, make sure that when you are holding/shining the ball you hold it on the seam, with your fingertips. I’ve demonstrated this in the photo below! The palms of some people’s hands get very sweaty, so if you’re constantly palming the ball, you might be adding a lot of unwanted moisture to it!

The correct grip for holding/shining the ball in between deliveries
How You Should Grip The Ball Whilst Holding/Shining It In Between Deliveries

As for moisture from the cricket field, if you’re playing cricket in slightly damp conditions, there’s not really a lot you can do to avoid the ball getting wet. The one thing you can do is make sure that you dry the ball off in between deliveries. Each bowler or a couple of the fielders should have small towels with them in order to do this.

Keeping the ball dry is especially important if you’re hoping to get the ball to reverse swing! Reverse swing primarily occurs in dry conditions where one side of the ball can get very scuffed up and scratched, and this just doesn’t occur as much if the ball is constantly taking on moisture! Keep this in mind if you’re a budding reverse swing bowler!

Nominate Someone To Take Charge Of The Ball Shining

A good way to make sure that the ball is taken care of is to nominate one specific person on your team to shine it in between deliveries. After the batsman has played their shot, the ball should be thrown or given to this team member quickly so they can begin polishing it. This way, you can make sure that you have a consistent approach to the shining process rather than letting multiple different fielders work on the ball.

I remember Alastair Cook doing this for England, and if my memory serves me correctly Paul Collingwood and Marcus Trescothick also took charge of it at certain points! The fielder that is in charge of shining the ball should always be fielding relatively close to the stumps, this way you can get the ball back to the bowler quickly for the next delivery!

Now you know how to shine the ball, you just need to learn how to get it to swing! And if you’re looking for a place to start…read the guide I put together on swinging the ball here!

Does It Matter Which Side Of The Ball You Shine?

The short answer is no! It does not matter which side of the cricket ball that you choose to shine, as long as you make sure that you shine that same side of the ball consistently throughout the innings. When you start an innings you will often have a brand new shiny ball at your disposal, so it can be hard to tell which side of the ball you are shining. In this case, you should pick a side and inform your teammates of this. Most cricket balls will have some kind of design on each side of the ball that allows you to easily tell them apart. For example, if you’re using a Kookaburra ball, you may choose to nominate the side that features the Kookaburra logo to be shined. By doing this you can ensure consistency! As we discussed above, you don’t want to apply moisture to both sides of the ball by accident, as this can negatively impact your ability to swing the ball!

Controversy Around Ball Tampering

Many cricketers have received criticism and sometimes even punishment for the way they have altered the condition of the cricket ball. Players worked out years ago that sucking sugary sweets before applying your saliva to the ball helps the ball stay shiny for longer! Although this is not technically against the rules of the game, Marcus Trescothick received a fair bit of criticism when he admitted to doing it in his autobiography. As for the amateur level, there is nowhere near as much scrutiny on what is done to the ball but if a player is caught using methods like that to gain an advantage they may face some punishment!

Other players have used instruments to damage the rough side of the ball, which is classed as ball tampering and is against the rules of the game. Michael Atherton was caught on camera rubbing dirt into the ball in 1994, and one of the most famous recent instance of ball tampering involved a few members of the Australian team using sandpaper in order to rough up the ball a bit quicker!

The thing you should take away from this section is to stay within the laws of the game when you’re working on the ball. If you stick to the guidelines I have given in this post you should be fine!  

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