Last week, England named Steve Finn as the replacement for the injured Chris Woakes in their Champions Trophy squad. On the face of it, the 28-year-old fast bowler’s induction seemed to be a prudent choice. With the white Kookaburra ball not aiding swing, taller and more robust hit-the-deck bowlers like Finn have caught the attention of the selectors. This is also precisely why England have benched David Willey, the left-arm swing bowler, and have instead opted for Finn and Jake Ball — two bowlers who rely on disconcerting bounce to unsettle the opposition batsmen. Even someone as gifted as Mohammed Amir struggled to swing the ball under overcast skies in Birmingham during Pakistan’s high-octane clash against India last week. Barely two overs into his spell, in the absence of any swing, Amir and Co. had to alter the lengths.
Is there trouble in the horizon for the Australian ball-manufacturer? Shannon Gill, the Melbourne-based firm’s spokesperson, however, isn’t perturbed and believes it is the constant rains in England that have negated conventional swing bowling. “Kookaburra hasn’t had any consistent concern from world cricket boards about the amount balls swing in ODI cricket. For example, there was no discussion of this during the 2015 ICC World Cup. We’re aware of some discussion during the Champions Trophy, but we’re also aware of the rain that’s hampered the tournament that changes the nature of the ball,” he explained.
They would be wary, though. No one knows more than them about how a bad tournament can kill a ball. In 1999, murmurs of dissatisfaction about the erratic movement of the official Dukes ball had spread around the cricketing circuit, and Kookaburra swooped in for the kill with their brand of white ball. That was the last time Dukes ball was seen at a major tournament.
Dukes has been quietly making its moves in the recent times. Early this year, it rolled into the Australian domestic cricket as Cricket Australia decided to try it out in the Sheffield Shield competition. Kookaburra have been knocked around the Australian grounds since 1890 but recent Ashes debacles in England have forced Australians to try out the Dukes. They believe Australian players – from first-class onwards – need to get more exposure to the Dukes ball, which is used in England for Ashes. Dukes was also tried out in New Zealand domestic cricket.
SUNDAY SPECIAL | Keeping the shine of the Dukes ball [read here]
For years, Shane Warne has been trumpeting about the Dukes, saying that it’s the best ball and Australians should adopt it. Wasim Akram too has often shared his displeasure with the Kookaburra, and has pitched in for the Dukes.
Thus far, there wasn’t much contest to the Kookaburra white ball but this Champions Trophy has reignited the old debate. Gill, the Kookaburra spokesperson, said that the ICC hasn’t issued any directives to the company yet about any problem with the ball. He also believed like several times in the past, Kookaburra would take inputs from the ICC and the other boards to help them in their evolution of the cricket ball. “If amount of swing is a concern for boards, we’re prepared to work with them.”
Much before the inception of the white Kookaburra balls in England, it was the Duke ball that held its sway during premier domestic competitions. With the more pronounced seam, it remained firmer for a longer duration, and thereby enabled conventional swing, which meant the fast bowlers got an equal footing in the game. The shift to the Kookaburra was propagated by the ICC to standardise the game.
However, over the last two decades, bowling with the white Kookaburra has proven to be a tedious task for most bowlers. Not surprisingly, voices in and around England have urged the administrators to bring back the good-old Duke ball, if anything, only to restore the parity between bat and ball.
Apart from not aiding swing, there is also this fear that the Kookaburra balls tend to wear off pretty quickly. Duke’s owner Dilip Jajodia said it all boiled down to the way the ball was stitched together. “In Kookaburras, there are two rolls that are machine-stitched. That’s like stitching a shirt. That’s why their seam is flat, and when you whack it with big bats, it wears out after just 10 overs. That’s why you’ll hear the bowlers complaining that the Kookaburra balls go soft and don’t swing. Because the stitching is done by machine, the shape is slightly different. It is flatter at the top for further near the seam,” he explained.
Kookaburra does hand-stitch the balls used in international cricket but only the closing seam, the main seam that holds the ball together. Jajodia claims that the outer two seams – there are six rows of stitching in a cricket ball – are cosmetic in a Kookaburra ball as opposed to the Dukes where the six rows hold the cork ball together, creating a tension that allows the ball to move more and hold its shape together. Kookaburra doesn’t agree to that assessment.
This is not the last we have heard from the two competitive ball manufacturers. For, the die-hard cricket fans across the globe might want to see a sizzling century from a Virat Kohli or a Joe Root but in between all that razzmatazz, they would also not mind seeing an Amir or Bhuvneshwar Kumar making the white ball ‘talk’.