Cricket: Saliva, sweat on ball low risks in battle against coronavirus

Using saliva to help shine cricket balls might not be the biggest risk in the sport.

As the world deals with the fast-spreading coronavirus, some have called for the practice of using spit on the cricket ball to be reviewed amid health fears.

Shining one side of the cricket ball helps bowlers produce movement through the air, commonly referred to as swing.

The most effective way to swing the ball is to rub spit on the ball and then shine it on a piece of clothing.

Former Blackcaps paceman Danny Morrison was one of New Zealand's best exponents of swing bowling and says it would be a sad day, if using saliva was banned.

But leading respiratory and infectious diseases physician Michael Maze believes the fuss may be an overreaction.

"There probably is a theoretical risk of transmission of infectious disease through saliva on the cricket ball," Maze has told Newshub. "It's pretty low I would have thought."

Data around the spread of infectious diseases in competitive sport suggests that close contact is the crucial element, so saliva on the ball may not be the biggest concern when considering transmission on the cricket field.

"The act of getting 22 guys together, switching around which 22 mix each week, getting together in the middle after each wicket, getting the batsman together in the middle of the wicket between each over... these are probably much bigger risks than someone spitting on the ball," Maze says.

Compared to contact sports, Maze thinks cricket is probably a low infectivity risk, but encourages people to think of an alternative to using saliva on the ball, while the battle with COVID-19 is early in its innings.

Bowlers used saliva to shine one side of the cricket ball
Bowlers used saliva to shine one side of the cricket ball. Photo credit: Getty

Sweat seems the logical option, but even Blackcaps bowler Tim Southee isn't sure that would be allowed in a post-coronavirus world.

Maze believes using sweat was probably less of a risk, but not completely risk-free.

"I'd admit I haven't had a chance to look at any data of virus and sweat, but I guess, from a first-principles approach, I'd say it's pretty unlikely.

"It's a virus that likes to live in our nose, likes to live in our throat, likes to live in our lungs... that's where it's most at home.

"Sweat's designed, in a sense, to be part of our immune response, so it's much more likely to be a bad place for viruses to live.

"I would think sweat would be a safer choice."

But stressing over the minutiae may be unnecessary.

"I would have thought, when we're safe to go back to playing cricket, whether or not somebody uses saliva or sweat to shine the ball is probably just a small-fry issue at this stage."