Why Do Cricketers Shine the Ball? [And How to Do it Correctly?]

One of the most common sight on a cricket ground is that of a cricket player rubbing the ball on his pants in order to shine the ball. But, have you ever wondered why cricketers rub the ball on their clothing in order to shine it?

Cricketers shine a cricket ball because it aids in swinging the ball. The shining is done on one side of the ball, while the other side remains rough as it undergoes natural wear and tear. This difference in the ball surface causes the cricket ball to swing.

Swing bowling is one of the oldest art forms in cricket. It heavily depends on the condition of the ball though among many other things. A well-maintained ball, suitable weather conditions, and a bowler capable enough to get swing out of it can help with crucial wickets in a match.

So how do you maintain a ball properly so that the shine lasts longer? Should everybody in the team do it? Does it need a mention in the pre-match meetings? More importantly how to achieve it legally? Let’s discuss these questions in further detail.

How to Shine a Cricket Ball?

Ball maintenance is one of the least talked about, but one of the most important parts of cricket gameplay, especially for the fielding side. A well-maintained ball goes through various phases through the match. Ball maintenance can reap huge benefits if done well.

Step 1 – Identify the Side of the Ball for Shining

Cricketers maintain a cricket ball by deliberately shining one side of the ball and letting the other side get roughed. The roughing up is just as important as shining the ball. While shining needs to be done deliberately, roughing up needs to happen naturally and any deliberate attempt is considered illegal in cricket.

It is also important to identify the side of the ball which needs to be rubbed for attaining the shine. A cricket ball is split into two halves by the seam, and it usually has a logo on one side while the other side is completely plain. It is highly recommended to shine the plain side of the cricket ball.

This is because, even on a new cricket ball, the presence of the logo on one side creates a slight imbalance in the surface of the two sides of the ball. Thus, the logo side is already rough, to begin with.

Step 2 – Holding the Ball Correctly

Once the side of the ball that needs shining is identified, it is important to hold the ball correctly in order to shine the complete half of the ball.

Virat Kohli of India holding the Cricket Ball from its seam (Image Source)

You know you are holding the ball correctly when you do the following three easy steps –

  1. Hold the ball from its seam (the part that divides the ball into two halves)
  2. Grip it hard to make sure it doesn’t slip from your hands.
  3. Make sure that the shiny part of the ball is facing outward (not towards your hand). This will ensure that you shine the correct side of the ball.

Step 3 – Apply Bodily Fluids to Shine One Side of the Ball

A great way to shine a cricket ball is to apply bodily fluids such as sweat or saliva on the surface of the ball and then rub it against players’ clothing to dry it off.

Generally, a team chooses which side to shine (as mentioned in step 1) and often has dedicated players for the shinning process. A player applies a small amount of sweat or saliva on the chosen side of the ball and then the ball is rubbed against the front or back to the trouser until the fluids permeate into the ball through the porous surface and the surface becomes dry and shiny.

Step 4 – Designate the Players for the Role of Shining the Ball

Have you ever heard the term – “Too many cooks spoil the broth”? This is absolutely applicable to shining the ball in the team as well. No doubt that the role of the team in shining a ball is absolutely critical.

However, it is important to note that there is no point in everybody trying to shine the ball. Since one of the crucial factors in shining a ball is consistency, it is important to have a few players responsible for the task.

Nominating the players to shine the ball is something that must be discussed in the pre-match meeting and the task must be assigned to a couple of individuals.

Bowlers can rub the ball on their clothing while preparing for their run-up. Additionally, two or three close-in fielders can be assigned to assisting in the task.

Rahul Dravid played that role many years in the Indian cricket team.

Tips for Shining the Ball Correctly

In addition to knowing the basics of shining a cricket ball (as mentioned above), here are a few little ninja tips that will ensure that the ball maintains the shine longer!

  • DO NOT Overuse the Saliva – The first and foremost is to not overuse the saliva or sweat. This can make the ball slippery, and the bowler won’t be able to grip the ball correctly.
  • Keep the Ball Dry – The more important thing than shining a ball is to keep it dry. If the ball is wet, not only does it slip from the bowler’s hands, it also makes the ball softer. This is also the reason why bowlers don’t prefer to bowl when there dew in the outfield.
  • Rub the Ball on your Trousers Sufficiently – After applying the bodily fluids in sufficient quantity, the ball should be slowly rubbed on the trousers until it is completely dry – meaning the fluids have completely soaked in the porous surface of a dyed leather ball – and shiny – meaning the grease has come out to the surface to and spread properly to provide the shine.

How Does Shining the Ball Help?

Shining a cricket ball is needed to aid the art of swing bowling. When the ball is new and shining the seam causes turbulence which aids in swinging the ball.

New and used Cricket Ball

As the game progresses, the side of the ball being maintained keeps smooth while the other side undergoes wear and tear.

When both the surfaces are sufficiently different in smoothness, the air starts to move differently along the surfaces. There is less drag on the shiny surface compared to the rough one making the ball swing in the direction of the rough side – a conventional swing.

Now let’s take the game ahead by 25 more overs. With every shining attempt on one surface, the ball absorbs bodily fluids and gradually gets heavier and heavier on the shiny side.

Eventually, the ball starts to move in the opposite direction i.e towards the shiny side instead of the rough one. This is reverse swing. It is deadlier than the conventional swing because the ball tends to move late and rather prodigiously making it impossible to deal with at times. Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram were the early and deadly exponents of the art of reverse swing.

While this may sound easy, but it isn’t otherwise everyone would it. Just maintaining the ball isn’t sufficient the other factors such as bowler’s wrist, finger position, release, length, speed, etc. are absolutely crucial. Even the weather is one of the crucial factors – cloudy weather is more suitable for swinging the ball.

We covered the topic of Swinging the Cricket Ball in detail in another post where we mentioned the science of cricket ball swing, and also share some tips and techniques to master the art of swing bowling.

Also, keep in mind the make of the ball – such as SG (India), Dukes (England), or Kukaboora (Australia) and the color of the dye as well – red ball, white ball, and recently introduced pink ball – to get the desired effect.

This can only be learned through the experience of using each one of them although in the nutshell it’s all about applying just enough fluids on the ball and rubbing it well enough to make it dry and shiny.

What Type of Bowlers Benefit from Shining the Ball?

Maintaining the ball well enough to keep one side shining helps the fast and medium-fast pacers in particular.

Swing Bowling is most well-suited for a bowler with a skill to release the ball with a straight seam. Bowlers that tend to have a straight arm action and a good wrist position are the most suited for swing bowling.

Think of James Anderson, who can swing the ball both ways – in-swing and out-swing. It helps bowlers who predominantly bowl fuller in length – like Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Mitchell Starc – as it gives ample time to the ball to come in contact with air.

If maintained well enough to induce reverse swing, it also helps the fast bowlers bowling with an older ball at death – like Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Mohammad Shami.

What is Ball-tampering in Cricket? Illegal ways of shining a ball.

Ball-tampering covers all the techniques that are applied to shine or rough up a cricket ball illegally.

Using external substances such as vaseline or sandpaper to shine the ball is illegal and so is using saliva mixed with sugar in the gum that the player is chewing on. Natural wear and tear are fine but deliberately using fingernails, shoe spikes, or trouser zip or scratching the ball on the hard surface to roughen it up considered illegal.

How have Covid-19 guidelines affected ball shining in Cricket?

As the world is waiting for Cricket to resume in the times of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ICC has provided some guidelines to be adhered to in the game of cricket.

The important and controversial guideline is the restriction on using Saliva to shine the ball in order to avoid the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Only sweat can be used to shine the ball now until the pandemic is over.

Final Thoughts

Shining and maintaining the ball is an art. It is a necessary condition but not a sufficient one. That is why some can swing it and some can’t.

However, if done well, shining can help even the ones who are less skilled at the art of swinging a cricket ball. I hope this article has given you an insight into the complexities of shining a cricket ball and a bit of advice on how to achieve it legally. Go, swing it then!

Image Credit for Featured Image of the Article

Shrot Katewa

Shrot is an avid cricket fan! He has played and endorsed the sport ever since he was in School. In fact, he played as a professional cricketer represented his state team in National Indoor Cricket Championship held in Pune, India. Shrot loves the game, loves talking to other people who play the game and share his learnings with other interested individuals. He is the founder of CricketMastery.com. This website is a culmination of his desire to help others understand this wonderful Game of Cricket!

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