Has The Cape Town Sandpaper Scandal Killed The Beautiful Art of Reverse Swing?

The Sandpaper scandal has re-surfaced again and rocked Australian cricket with one of the accused Cameron Bancroft making a sensational claim which suggested that bowlers were aware of the proceedings on the field. This has led to vociferous reactions from former players and analysts forcing Cricket Australia to take notice of the matter. While ball tampering using various methods has been prevalent in cricket for long, it again came to the forefront during the infamous Cape Town Test of 2018. One major outcome of this whole Sandpaper Gate controversy seems to be on the hesitation of the bowlers to work on the ball to enable it to reverse swing, making the art almost extinct from world cricket.

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There are various ways that bowlers adopt to shine the ball – sweat, gum, sandpaper, lip balm, vaseline, thumbnails, mint and sunscreen – but most of these are now illegal.

A number of so-called run-out attempts by the fielding team are not to actually run-out the batsman but to make one side of the ball rough so that the other can be nice and shiny and the contrast will make the ball swing and talk.

However, there has been scrutiny on the methods adopted to shine the ball since the Sandpaper Gate scandal which in turn has left the bowlers a little scared and wary. This in turn might be the cause for the slow death of the art of reverse swing bowling.

“I think everybody’s just a little bit on edge. I do think people are too scared to try anything. The ball is being checked numerous times in any game. Every couple of overs the ball goes to the umpire and he has a look at it. I would like to see reverse swing back in the game without a doubt,” stated Mickey Arthur, the former coach of Australia and Pakistan currently at the helm of affairs in Sri Lanka.

Two more players have been pulled up for ball tampering since the Sandpaper scandal – Dinesh Chandimal and Nicholas Pooran and this is definitely having an adverse effect on reverse swing bowling.

“I think reverse swing is an incredible art. When a bowler gets it to go it’s an incredibly good skill. Obviously, we’re talking about getting the ball to go legally. It’s amazing to watch. There’s no better sight than when a fast bowler is running in and getting the ball to reverse at good pace,” added Arthur.

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The reduced use of reverse swing has not had a major effect on the top-rung bowlers but some others have seen their numbers dip. Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood have better bowling averages in the three years post Cape Town 2018 as compared to the three year period earlier. The same holds for James Anderson and Stuart Broad too. However, some others such as Kagiso Rabada have seen their numbers dip. The South African’s strike rate has worsened from 38.9 to 48 in this time-frame.

The ICC has imposed stricter punishment for ball tampering post the Sandpaper Gate scandal increasing the penalty to a six-Test suspension.

Coupled with the Sandpaper Gate has been the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic with bowlers not allowed to use saliva on the ball.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the death of reverse swing but it’s in a bear market. We won’t see anything as much as previously,” said Damien Fleming.

Arthur wants the ICC to legalise certain practices such as throwing the ball on the bounce to the keeper to rough one side in order to swing the ball later.

“You can’t be using sandpaper or a bottle top, and scratching it with nails is taking it too far. Sometimes you get lucky when a ball hits an advertising board and a little piece comes out on the one side. The point I’m trying to say is ball management should be really encouraged provided you’re swimming between the beacons. I don’t mind if you get close to the one beacon but you have to swim between them,” stated Arthur.

Fleming was in agreement with Arthur further stating that after the easing of the Covid restrictions players should be allowed to put saliva while chewing gum.

“When you put the mint on the ball and circle it around the shiny side – to me that’s like sandpaper. That’s one that needs to be policed. You can have chewing gums and not mints. I can handle chewies, they don’t seem to lacquer it up like mints do,” quoted Fleming.

Arthur further stated that as soon as the ball gave a hint of reverse swing the batting team complain to the umpires who change the ball which is not fair or good for cricket.

“The minute the ball reverse-swings the batting team moans and the umpires check the ball and change it. Players are very reluctant to work the ball legally. There has been a big drop off. I think the game’s worse for it.”​

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