Dane Vilas: Saliva ban may force bowlers to become more skillful

WION Web Team
New Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Digvijay Singh DeoUpdated: Jun 08, 2020, 04:51 PM IST


Story highlights

South African cricketer and captain of Lancashire County Cricket Club, Dane Vilas, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, opened up on lockdown experience, resumption of training for cricketers, social distancing in cricket, T20 World Cup, the financial impact of COVID-19 on the game, and much more.

South African cricketer and captain of Lancashire County Cricket Club, Dane Vilas, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, opened up on lockdown experience, resumption of training for cricketers, social distancing in cricket, T20 World Cup, the financial impact of COVID-19 on the game, and much more.

Digvijay Singh Deo: Thank you for your time, Dane. How have you been through this period and how has life in lockdown been?

Dane Vilas: It's been strange and difficult at times. Given the situation around the world, I have been keeping well. Looking from the outside, it does seem as if things are getting better.

DSD: This virus has actually struck much closer than most imagine, your county chairman David Hodgkiss passed away after contracting the virus at the end of March.

Dane Vilas: It was very sad to lose him a couple of months back. He was a key figure at the Lancashire cricket club, a lovely man and someone I had a great relationship with. He was extremely passionate about the game and it is a great loss for the game and our club. Everyone is susceptible to the virus and it is crucial to stay safe in these trying times.

DSD: The lockdown has been pretty strict in England, much like in India, so how is your family coping in these times?

Dane Vilas: It has been difficult. When the lockdown began, we were only allowed to be outdoors for about 1 or 2 hours in a day, fortunately, there is a huge park in the Vicinity, so at least I was able to take the kids out for a bike ride. The good thing is that people are adhering to social distancing rules. Some of the restrictions have been relaxed lately, so people have been leaving their homes more often. I don't get the opportunity to spend much quality time with my family that often because I'm usually travelling during the county season, so in that sense, this is a welcome change. I have a 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter and it is great to be able to spend two whole months with them at a stretch. I'm obviously missing the game of cricket and sport in general. Social interaction has been minimal and that is a strange thing to get used overall it has been a bittersweet time.

DSD: Sport is usually the great healer and we have seen the example of Rugby doing that in South Africa but at this time almost every sportsperson around the world is feeling helpless and perhaps frustrated as well.

Dane Vilas: Sport is definitely a massive industry and forms a huge part of many people's lives. Some people plan their whole week around a sporting event. Sport is an escape for people, it can help them relax and provide much-needed entertainment. It is hugely important for the mental well-being of the viewers and the players. All of us players want to return to action, so at the moment we're feeling like caged lions. The weather in England over the last couple of months has been perfect for cricket, so it is very frustrating to not play. However, I realise that the world is facing bigger problems at the moment. Various sports like football are trying to work around the problem and hopefully, cricket will resume soon. It is great to be able to entertain people and I can't wait to do that again.

Dane Vilas

DSD: The ECB has taken the lead in allowing for limited training to resume across counties, so how has it been for you?

Dane Vilas: Right now, the domestic sides aren't allowed to practice outdoors. They are only allowing the national team to train on a trial basis.the priority for the ECB is to hold the test series against West Indies and Pakistan in the near future, so they will assess how safe it is to train and based on that, they will then create guidelines for the domestic players to return to training. I think it makes sense to open up training with a small group of players, so initially, only the bowlers will be able to practice.

DSD: Can social distancing happen on a cricket ground and during a match, it is, after all, a team sport and what is the fun in not having contact when say you score a 50 or a hundred or a bowler takes a catch.

Dane Vilas: In any team sport, the camaraderie among the players forms the essence of the game. It is definitely going to be difficult to practice social distancing while playing. However, I believe that players will be willing to make these small compromises for the sport to resume.

DSD: How will the life and career of a professional cricketer change now. You for one have a contract with Lancashire but if the season continues to get delayed then revenue gets affected and then there is also the trickle-down effect which ultimately gets down to the players...

Dane Vilas: Many county clubs, including Lancashire, have already been financially hit. All us players have taken a pay cut to help the organisation deal with the shutdown. We are fortunate that we still have our jobs, but I think a lot of employees are at the risk of losing theirs because of this crisis. There will definitely a trickle-down effect and we have already started to see the first stages of that phenomenon. I believe the whole landscape of the world will change because of the virus and cricket is no different. All we can do as sportspersons are adapt to the new normal. All of us in some way have adapted to the lockdown and that is the template to move forward. We have found ways to communicate with each other with the help of technology, with video calls and zoom meetings, which is a positive outcome of the crisis. Every adverse situation provides us with a new opportunity and I'm sure we will come out of this crisis stronger.

Dane Vilas

DSD: There are other revenue streams that are going to be affected, a lot was riding on the hundred for one in England but that’s been shelved.

Dane Vilas: It is extremely disappointing that the hundred has been cancelled. I know that the organisers had been working on the event for a few years and I'm sure it would have done wonders for the game of cricket in England. There was so much hype during the world cup in England in 2019 and all that momentum was supposed to culminate with the inaugural season of the hundred. Now the authorities have to go back to the drawing board and re-plan everything, which is a lot of hard work. It is hard to really predict how badly we will be hit in terms of our finances, we will only be able to get a clear answer in a couple of years because this crisis will certainly have a long-term effect on the game. As players, these things are not really in our control and we need to find a way to make the most of the situation.

DSD: Dane, you play across the world in T20 leagues, huge question marks over the IPL, the PSL got affected in March, will there always be a doubt in the minds of players when they step on a flight.

Dane Vilas: Over the last few years, there are many players who earn their basic living through these T20 leagues across the world. These specialised T20 players will suffer huge losses. The whole ecosystem will take a hit, that means it will affect everyone from the top dogs to the lesser players. There are travel restrictions present across the world and we have no idea when they will be lifted. The hardest part is not knowing when this crisis will be over or not knowing when we will be out on the field. There is no goal to work towards right now, so it takes time to come to terms with that reality.

As far as the risk of travelling is concerned, it completely depends on the individual. A young cricketer who lives alone might be willing to take that risk because he can isolate himself. On the other hand, a cricketer who lives with his family has young kids and is constantly in contact with his parents, will probably not be willing to put himself in harm's way. As people, we have to accept whatever decisions the players make without judgement because everyone has different circumstances. I think we also have to listen to the advice of the medical authorities because they have our best interests in mind and ultimately our health is the priority.

DSD: The ICC cricket committee has come up with a set of recommendations on the resumption of cricket. The big change they have suggested is the ban on the use of saliva on the ball, the bowlers aren't going to be too happy.

Dane Vilas: Yes, it will be difficult for the bowlers to generate that polish on the ball. I guess they will have to use more of their own sweat now. The ball manufacturers have also been experimenting with some sort of wax which might help with seam movement. However, you never know, this rule change might just help the bowlers become more skilful. All these measures are being undertaken on a trial basis and we haven't even begun playing cricket yet, so I think it is important to be patient. I have complete faith in the ICC and the cricket authorities that they will make the right decision for all the players and the stakeholders of the sport.

Dane Vilas

DSD: But look at it this way, any sport currently, behind closed doors or not till we have a vaccine is bound to be risky. Should the template of the game be changed and is it fair in your opinion.

Dane Vilas: There is a need for the game to be flexible at the moment. Unfortunately, we have no blueprint or handbook on ways to deal with the coronavirus because this is a truly unprecedented crisis. The integrity of the game must be kept intact, but the sport must adapt and move forward, otherwise, we won't be able to play the game we love for a long time.

DSD: There is also a huge ICC tournament on this year down in Australia, now Australia at the moment is pretty much opening up gradually, what do you think, should the T20 world cup go ahead?

Dane Vilas: I am an optimistic person, so I think the tournament can go ahead. We are about five months away from the tournament starting and the situation is largely under control in Australia. The T20 world cup is a huge tournament, one of the flagship events of the ICC and it will be a great boost for the game of cricket. The ICC, though will not put any player at risk. Logistically it will be a challenge for the authorities to fly each team into Australia, but with what's at stake, they will be more than up to the task.

DSD: We are also now seeing sport starting to fight back. The German Bundesliga is back on and that sort of gives some hope to other athletes and leagues around the world. It will help in removing the anxiety of players returning to action, what do you reckon?

Dane Vilas: Absolutely. Sport has the power to inspire people, to bring people together from all walks of life. Sport can also help in uplifting the spirit of the people, which can in a way, help fight the virus. The ball is slowly starting to roll in terms of sporting action returning, the Bundesliga has started and Sri Lanka cricket is ready to host India and Bangladesh in July. Hopefully, by the end of the year, we can return to somewhat of normal life and we'll get to witness a great T20 world cup.