Cricket's sticky stuff
Tampering, weightlifting, sticky stuff, baseball and urine.
Let me tell you a story about urine, sticky stuff, baseball and ball tampering.
Do you remember when Ravi Jadeja put something on his spinning finger? It was a bizarre situation, not least because the BCCI decided not to fight the charge and almost seemed eager to accept the ICC's punishment.
The final decision cleared Jadeja of ball tampering charges. But when it first happened, that was what people were talking about: Jadeja tampered with the ball.
This does not appear to be an incident of intentionally changing the ball's condition. As in, he wasn't trying to pick the seam, scuff up the ball or even put something on it to get reverse swing.
The cream goes on his finger, and despite the ball being in his hand, he puts the cream on himself and not on the ball. In fact, after coating his finger, he drops the ball out of his hand entirely. If the idea was to get the cream on the ball, he missed a good opportunity.
That doesn't matter in the playing conditions. The code of conduct 2.14 says:
"Any action(s) likely to alter the condition of the ball which are not specifically permitted under clause 41.3.2 may be regarded as 'unfair'."
Jadeja put cream on his spinning finger, which was likely to alter the condition of the ball. It is ball tampering, and he should have been charged with that. Remember that despite what happened to Australian players, most charges for ball tampering in history are pretty low-key. Many end in a fine and no suspension.
Since the Australians made everyone take note, the ICC had to pretend they were taking it seriously - despite turning a blind eye to massive tampering for decades. So Nicholas Pooran was suspended from four T20Is and Dinesh Chandimal missed a Test.
Before that former South African captain Faf Du Plessis was caught tampering with the ball twice and was given a grand total of a zero match ban. They only fined him.
Of 50% of his match fee. Which happened to be the same as he had once been given for having the wrong colour shoelaces in a game.
So even though Jadeja probably should have been fined for accidentally tampering with the ball, everyone decided that the easier part was to just give him a small slap on the wrist (his and not Mohammed Siraj's oiled-up wrist). And because of this, outside of a small news cycle - at least by Border Gavaskar Trophy standards - we all moved on.
Well, you did. But not me. Because while I am fairly certain he wasn't trying to alter the ball's condition. I do think there was a possibility that this was something completely different.
It should not have ended with Jadeja getting roughly the same fine, maybe slightly higher. But could have started a conversation about something I am fairly sure is happening in cricket.
That some bowlers - mostly spinners and fast bowlers known for their slower deliveries - are using artificial methods to put more revolutions on the ball.
Now, I had no idea if Jadeja was doing this. But that it was mentioned so little was weird.
To get more spin, finger spinners have done some pretty weird things in history.
I have talked with enough offies over the years who have told me that they intentionally piss on their fingers. Yes, this is a weird thing to tell you. But most bowlers who really give the ball a rip end up tearing the skin off their bowling digit. And so the thought in cricket was you could toughen that area by pissing on it.
This isn't just a cricket thing by the way. Baseballers also believe this, and it turns out that it is untrue. It actually weakens the skin. Something to tell your niece if she is a promising young tweaker.
But let's stick with baseball here. (And I do mean stick).
In 2020 Major League Baseball had a big problem. Essentially, the secret was out that baseball pitchers were getting such amazing revolutions on their various creations because so many of them were using what is referred to as Spider Tack, or just simply sticky stuff. That extra purchase meant that the ball would do more in the air. Sticky stuff gave you revolutions, which meant batters hit you less.
The problem wasn’t that pitchers were using sticky stuff - they had for generations - it's that casual fans knew they were. It's a bit like in cricket. What Australia did was take ball tempering and make it news for everyone in the world. People in cricket have picked at the seam, put things on the ball that will help it swing and changed its condition since the game started.
But what the pitchers were guilty of was making it really clear that they were openly cheating. Non-sticky stuff pitches proved in tests what could be done to the ball. And so MLB came in to stop this by implementing checks on whether pitches had any sticky stuff on their person.
Essentially baseball brought in a rule that allowed their umpires to pat down their players.
So am I saying that is what Ravi Jadeja did? No. I have no proof of that; it could just be a pain-relieving cream. But the fact that the ICC never even looked into the fact it could be a version of cricket's sticky stuff is really quite odd. Because this isn't something I have made up. Lots of cricketers have told me this is going on already.
I had heard players make jokes about it before, but after this picture of Simon Harmer got out there, I certainly took more notice of it. It was clear that cricketers believed this was happening, whether it was or not.
Some people believe this is the same kind of chalk that weight lifters use to ensure the bar doesn't fall. And by people, I had weight lifters actually suggest this to me. Now, look, for all I know it's nose zinc gone wrong, or talcum powder for chronically bad crotch itch. But the point is, a professional cricketer should not be putting whatever this is on their hands or the ball.
And it's not always this obvious. There are plenty of gels, creams, ointments and pastes you can use. Golfers, Rugby players, gymnasts, Aussie Rules players and pole dancers all these things to help with grip. A former player sent me this link.
And if spinners are doing it to get extra spin, then something should be done about it, right? We know that Harmer and Jadeja put something on their hands. And it could be completely innocent.
Even if they did put these sticky things on their hand, it's still probably only a fairly small fine. The problem isn't that one or two might be doing it. It's that this is a huge thing across all cricket and no one is looking into it.
There is also a fairly elegant solution. Every couple of overs the umpires could shake hands with the bowlers who are getting good dips on their slower balls or spin off the wicket. It's not like baseball's pat down. It would be a very cricket way of handling something.
If this is anything like reverse swing, then it might take years for anything to happen at all. And then suddenly there will be a huge controversy over what is already common practice when someone is caught using spray on ACME Superglue on the field.
Jadeja's cream should at least be a chance for us to start the conversation.