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ICC World Cup 2019: The Dukes Ball Success Story and The Indian Hand Behind It

Dukes has been producing cricket balls since 1760, and Jajodia took over ownership in 1987.

Karthik Lakshmanan |June 27, 2019, 4:05 PM IST
ICC World Cup 2019: The Dukes Ball Success Story and The Indian Hand Behind It

London: If you're standing outside the Dukes Ball factory in Walthamstow in East London, you might not know you're standing outside the Dukes Ball factory. There are no boards, no signs, nothing to show that countless balls including ones used for Test matches in England and West Indies are produced inside. The anonymous nature of the factory is intentional.

But if you manage to get access, you will be educated on the processes and world of cricket-ball making within 15 minutes. That is all down to the energy of Dilip Jajodia, the Bangalorean-settled-in-England owner of Dukes Balls. Jajodia is 74, but it's hard to figure that out given his passion for making balls.

Jajodia doesn't shy away from making big statements. 'We produce the best cricket balls in the world'. 'You can't find a ball from our competitors that lasts 90 overs, because such a ball doesn't exist'. 'At first-class level, machine stitched balls are not fit for purpose'. 'Players don't know the intricacies about making balls'.

Dukes has been producing cricket balls since 1760, and Jajodia took over ownership in 1987. It's a brand with big history, but Jajodia is still fighting for a place in the market as competition is heavy. Dukes balls are used for Tests in England and West Indies, SG produces balls for Tests in India, while Kookaburra makes balls for Tests everywhere else.

The white ball market is completely dominated by Kookaburra, but that could be changing in years to come. In October 2011, the ICC changed their playing conditions to allow usage of two Kookaburra balls in ODIs to avoid problems caused by discolouring. Over the last few years, high scores, lack of reverse swing and lack of support for spinners have made people call for an amendment to the rule. Sachin Tendulkar and Waqar Younis were among the ones to seek a return to the one-ball policy.

The ICC too have publicly admitted to asking manufacturers to make balls that last 50 overs. Jajodia stresses he has been doing precisely that, hopeful of breaking the monopoly.

dukes ball

More on that later. Let's first hear out what makes Dukes different. Jajodia says it starts with the cow that produces the leather.

"Our leather is robust," Jajodia tells CricketNext. "The fundamental thing in the ball is the quality of the leather. We get out leather from a Scotland Angus cow, because that works best. The belly of a cow is very flimsy because the cow has been pregnant and it's been stretched. The back is the strongest bit. We don't buy the leather from the belly. We just get the leather from a certain space in the back of the cow's body. The middle of the backbone is the strongest bit. We cut panels about four inches in width; the two middle bits (closest to the backbone) are for Test cricket, the next two for first-class cricket, the next two might be for premier league and so on.

"When you make a ball, they've come from the same piece of leather. Not from one cow here and another from elsewhere. It's the first step towards keeping the shape of the ball."

The making of the core of the ball, or the cork, is different too.

"The centre of the ball is very important. In the old days, we used to have something called Fiblayer centre which is still used by other manufacturers. But in those, there's too much potential for movement inside which makes the balls go out of shape. It also goes soft.

"We have to get the right type of cork, the right rubber, molded for the right humidity and so on so you get consistency. So each ball will be consistent. The centre is done by a machine. If it's made by hand, the person doing it could be tired or something could have affected it."

The stitching in a Dukes ball, though, is completed by hand. In a Kookaburra, only two of six rows are by hand while the rest is done by machines. It's safe to say Jajodia is not a fan of machine stitching.

dukes ball

"In a machine stitched ball, the stitches are applied before fitting the cups together. It's like stitching on shirts. It's only decorative, it's doing nothing," he says. "For us, we have a whole six rows of stitching holding the ball together. It makes a huge difference because the thread is going underneath, and the seam holds up. This forms a rudder - when the ball is delivered, there is a resistance. Without a protruding seam, there won't be resistance. It's all about aerodynamics. I don't believe in machine stitched balls."

Jajodia then explains the various stages of ball-making at rapid pace, careful not to divulge too much for obvious reasons: Closing - to join the leather together, Stamping - to print the manufacturer's logo, Milling - using an old fashioned apparatus to squeeze the ball into shape, Lamping - exposing the ball to flame to apply synthetic grease and Surface Finish - to apply the final coating according to the level of cricket.

Production of one ball takes around 3.5 man hours, with at least one hour dedicated just for stitching. If the ball is one gram under 155.9 or over 163, it has failed. If it doesn't go through the ring that checks shape, it fails.

Back to the white-ball market. Jajodia picks out various balls from his storage, showing balls that have lasted 50 overs without issues in matches around the world. It looks like the ICC has taken note too; Dukes was tested - one ball, not two - in the World Cricket League Division 3 in Oman last year. Dukes will also be used in two regions - Americas and Europe - of the 2020 Under-19 World Cup Qualifier tournament.

"I've been telling them that the Dukes was used in 1999 - only one white ball and without problems," he says. "Ever since 1999, there was no open tender. It was just a closed shop. They kept saying this is the World Cup ball, so all coaches wanted to use the World Cup balls for games through the four years. The four-year cycle has been going on.

"It's politics, the nature of the beast. They keep saying we have to do testing. If I was from a random bazaar, knocked on their door and said I can do this, fair enough. Put me through the mill. But I'm with a 1760 company and produce Test match balls, so what's their problem? I have to keep on.

dukes ball

"The administrators should have the desire. You can't force people. They should have an open and free policy to make a fair judgment. May the best man win, that should be the attitude. Of course, commercial considerations come in, I understand that. I have a very simple philosophy - that's the product, that's the price worldwide. No deals, no special prices, no favouritism. Within the laws, I can always tweak a little. The ECB asked me to reduce the seam a little for the county game. They've asked me to produce a bigger seam for the Ashes. All within the law, slight variations. That's fine. I'll never adjust to something dodgy.

"I'm hoping eventually that players will demand better balls. The problem is the decisions are made well in advance. It's normally one World Cup to the next. So the decision is maybe made this year for the next one, then you have no chance to enter. Some players who play with the Dukes for the first time complain that they can't control it. But that's because they don't use their skills. The players don't know the intricate details about making balls. The problem is that administrators are afraid of these guys, the superstars. When they start talking, or past players start talking, it makes an influence."

Fortunately for Jajodia, he has a supporter in arguably the biggest superstar of the modern game - Virat Kohli - albeit in the longer format. Kohli supported the use of Dukes balls for all Tests around the world, while slamming the SG ball going out of shape often, just like his premier spinner R Ashwin had done.

"The Dukes ball, I think, is the most suited ball for Test cricket. If there’s a situation I would vouch for that to be used all over the world because of the consistency of the ball and how the bowlers are in the game at any stage, even the spinners, because the seam is so hard and upright," Kohli had said last year.

People have begun to listen too. Apart from Tests in England and West Indies, the Dukes red ball is used in first-class cricket in Australia and Pakistan. It's a stiff competition but the Dukes is gradually rising.

And wondering why the factory is anonymous? Jajodia is worried about its safety given crime rates in the locality. He loves his cricket balls, perhaps more than the bowlers do.

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