How do you dew it away?

How do you dew it away?

cricket

I feel like they overplay the dew factor a bit too much these days.” 

This is what arguably the finest left-arm spinner of all time, Bishan Singh Bedi, had to say when asked about how dew affects the field of play in the subcontinent once the sun sets. 

It must be noted that the owner of 266 Test wickets from 67 games featured in only ten one-day internationals for seven wickets without ever playing a day/night match. Sure, he was quick to establish his limited-overs credentials before assuming a tone which insinuated ‘weaker men’, but he refused to concede that dew could play as big a part in changing the narrative of a contest, especially for spinners. His argument was that line and length, even minus break, were potent enough against batsmen of calibre.  

There is a certain truth to his hard-nosed assessment, but one can’t ignore just how much of an impediment dew is to sides bowling second in a day-night contest, especially in the subcontinent. Even if we were to ignore the massive sample size at disposal, from the immediate series alone we can ascertain the same fact. 

Australia steamrolled India in pursuit of a decent 256 in Mumbai. They didn’t lose a single wicket on a pitch which made bowlers, and these are established bowlers too, look like bowling machines without someone to turn up the dials. All Aaron Finch and David Warner had to do was either plonk their feet forward or stay low upon getting back and play through the line. 

Worked much the same when Australia chose to chase in the second game in Rajkot. Only, this time they were chasing 341. They fell 36 runs short but consider this, on an off-night the team chasing second was able to get up to 304, and this at a venue where the effects of dew weren’t as pronounced as in Mumbai.  

Basically, when the dew kicks in, movement and break off the surface are a thing of the past. To top that, bowlers can’t be consistent when the ball isn’t coming out the right way and the fielders spend more time sliding and wiping themselves off than holding onto catches [remember the WorldT20s in Bangladesh (2014) and India (2016)?]

Life with dew isn’t easy but that’s common knowledge, it has been the case since forever and exaggeratedly so in the subcontinent. Although some measures have been employed around the country to try and minimise the effects, attempts are still relatively archaic. “There is no research being done in this field,” said Daljit Singh, a retired BCCI curator. “I remember way back when I went to play golf, I was told that they used a spray to tackle early morning dew. I then started using Apsa 80 (a common agricultural adjuvant) on cricket grounds. 

“Essentially what they do is stick to blades of grass and ensure the dew slips to the ground. But even this lasts only for a couple of hours. The second you use a super-sopper or the ropes, the effects of the chemical wear off,” he explains. 

“Curators can also not water the ground for three days and maintain shorter grass to alleviate the effects,” he adds. 

Anything else? Something the captains can use before making a call after winning the flip of the coin? “One of the things we have noticed is that when it’s overcast or windy, there isn’t much dew but on still evenings or slightly muggy nights, there is plenty of dew. That’s really all we can offer as curators to captains,” Daljit added.

Since we have put it off long enough, we have to now move onto the inevitable task, a science-laden affair, of explaining the phenomenon of dew. 

The surface of the earth heats faster than the air around it. In the evenings, it loses heat while the air around it remains warm. The moisture, aka humidity, condenses (reverts to liquid) when it comes in contact with the cold ground, or anything else really, to form a blanket of tiny water droplets across surfaces. And of course, there is an optimal temperature ‘dew point’ for this shift of states to occur, which is why this phenomenon is mostly evidenced in the subcontinent, and on glasses and cold water bottles anywhere.     

Also, to explain Daljit’s revelation, cloudy nights hold heat closer to the ground, meaning clouds reflect heat back to the ground, in turn keeping the land warm enough to avoid the formation of dew. Clear days and clear nights are prerequisites for intense dew formation. “The quantum of dew is higher in cooler regions,” PR Viswanathan, another veteran BCCI curator. “We don’t get that much dew in Chennai but see Guwahati and Kolkata gets a fair bit. It’s nothing you can control, you just need to learn to live with it.”

While the pessimism is unmistakable, Viswanathan went on to suggest plausible methods to combat the factor which gives the side batting second an undue advantage. “Starting the games a little early will surely help minimise the effects,” he opines. “Another thing they could make part of the tournament rules is the use of absorbent ropes to mop up the dew every ten overs. Also, they should run these ropes over small distances, a few yards at a time. It will be a tough task and probably take about 25-30 people for the job but it can be done. The only question is if they have that much time to spare.”

While that method wouldn’t change the fact that the pitch still won’t offer any assistance to the bowler, it should keep the ball relatively dry. Thus, improving the potential for movement off the seam if nothing is to be had in the air. 

The seam, made of twine, is the first component of the ball to absorb water so holding the ball as pacers conventionally do becomes harder, forcing them to rely on cross-seam deliveries. 

If that’s the pacemen’s plight, you can now imagine what prompts spinners to wildly wipe these balls with dense face towels. “You’re essentially squeezing the ball out of your hand when you’re a spinner,” said Bedi. “The ball obviously slips out like soap when you do that. No amount of wiping will help either because once the leather has soaked the dew, it’s not drying up anytime soon.” 

And yet he reckoned it a factor overplayed? Well, try telling that to stand-in Australian coach Andrew McDonald who camped out at the Wankhede stadium for the opening game for dew readings. 

Fortunately, he won’t have to “camp out” at the M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru, venue for the third and final ODI, since dew barely plays a part in this part of the world. “We spray the chemical too as a preventive measure but dew has never been an issue here,” says Prashanth Rao, the assistant curator at the Karnataka State Cricket Association.

“There isn’t a dramatic change in temperature from afternoon to evening here so it’s usually pretty low. The sub-air system doesn’t really do much with dew because it’s minimal. We blow some air and warm the surface but we can’t fully avoid the dew because it keeps building through the evening.”

Seams made of something other than twine? Water-proof leather? Better chemicals? Improved wipe down measures? Perhaps all. Perhaps something else. Until we come up with feasible solutions to this dew problem, though, we may as well just start games earlier. You can then call it a fair game.

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