Batting For the Right Ball
Among the game’s many accessories that join hands to produce a rich tapestry of skillful encounters is its main component, the round leather ball
File photo od India skipper Virat Kohli. (Image: AP)
What makes Indian skipper Virat Kohli publicly bat for the England-made Dukes ball thumbing down the ‘Made in India’ SG ball? Or even the legendary Aussie spinner Shane Warne pitching for Dukes and rejecting the Australia-made Kookaburra.
The answer may well lie in the lack of standardization of the balls globally and difficulty in adjusting to them in different conditions. The Indian experience with the SG balls at the international level is not bad if one goes by the results at home. However, there are complaints that its seam dies down after the initial few overs, the shine vanishes and the ball becomes soft, leaving the bowlers frustrated, though again it is not borne out by results and the success of the spinners.
No other sport, perhaps, is so susceptible to manipulations from outside elements than cricket. This is a statement of fact and not to be misread as a qualitative attribute or to be seen in negative terms. The term “glorious uncertainties” has been specifically coined for this bat and ball game that the Britishers invented and popularised wherever they spread their imperial designs in the nineteenth century.
In most other sports, the weather, atmospheric conditions, the surface you play on and the equipment you play with do play a role but not as significant and a decisive one as in cricket.
It is this object, the ball, which is central to its activity along with the wooden bat. The bowler tries to use the ball to get a batsman out, whereas the batsman attempts to score runs off it. Of late, the cricket ball has been at the centre of many controversies, none more impactful than the ball tampering incident that led to the Australian Board banning its skipper Steve Smith and David Warner for a year from playing international cricket while Cameron Bancroft was handed a nine-month long suspension.
Since the amount of swing and turn a bowler can extract from the ball depends on the quality, shape and condition of the ball, cricketers have from time immemorial discovered ways and means to tamper with it in order to gain maximum advantage. From ball tampering—once being very common and almost non-punishable to its present draconian laws to prevent this practice—the game has come a long way. Yet the controversies surrounded it never die and the ball remains at the centre of any discussion on the game.
The latest is which manufacturer’s ball should be used in international cricket to help improve the quality of the contest. At present, three types of cricket balls are used in international and domestic contests. India plays with home-made SG balls in longer formats and Australian-made white coloured Kookaburra balls in limited overs cricket. Most other countries play with Kookaburra balls, barring England and the West Indies, who play with Dukes balls manufactured in England.
The advent of one-day cricket deepened this complexity as a white coloured ball had to be used in day-night cricket to make it more visible to players as well as television audiences. These white balls, unlike the SG and Dukes, are machine-made. That is not the only difference. The red leather balls are handmade and stitched in England and India and have pronounced seams, which the machine made Kookaburra balls lack. To make this technical jargon simpler, the hand-made and stitched red balls, especially Dukes, swing more, last longer and even the spinners relish bowling with them. The Kookaburra balls do not have a very pronounced seam and hence after the first ten-fifteen overs they afford little purchase to the bowlers.
It is very possible that the Indians had a very different experience with the Dukes balls in England, where the bowlers performed exceptionally well and feel that if they play with the same ball at home as well, they would be better prepared, especially the batsmen, to play well in England. There is, no doubt, a need for uniformity, but it is easier said than done in a game so dependent on external conditions like cricket is. The Dukes balls may perform very differently in Indian conditions, where the wickets are more abrasive and alter the condition of the ball quicker than in England. And also how the humid weather affects the ball is unknown.
Another query is whether a foreign-made ball be preferred over an Indian company with decades of manufacturing experience? Also to be taken into account is the price, as the SG ball costs almost one fourth of what a Dukes ball costs. The shift will affect India’s domestic cricket as not all cricket played in India is sponsored by the cash-rich Indian Board.
These are questions to ponder in cricket’s near-impossible search for uniformity in as diverse and complex a sport as cricket.
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