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Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh and the SG ball – these were the reasons, according to Virat Kohli, that denied India a win in the third Test match. While showering praise on the Aussie duo for their gritty batting against Ravindra jadeja and Co. on Monday, the Indian captain, in his post-match remarks, said the ball became soft far too quickly and it hurt their chances. Asked at the presentation ceremony if the rough on the pitch went to sleep after lunch, Kohli said: “I don’t think it was the wicket. It was the ball, soft, not doing much. I don’t know about the lot of balls.”
At the press conference later, he elaborated: “When the ball was new last night, it spun well off the rough. Even this morning, it was spinning well. In the middle session, the ball was not hard, so it could not generate that kind of pace from the wicket. On day five, the wicket slows down, we took the new ball later and got a couple of wickets. But the hardness of the ball in the middle session was a factor,” Kohli said.
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Paras Anand of SG, makers of the official Test ball in India, declined to comment on the issue, saying he needed to speak with Kohli and coach Anil Kumble first to know the exact nature of the Indian captain’s grievances. In recent times, it’s not the first occasion that a prominent Indian player has criticised the SG ball. After the India-South Africa Test in Bangalore last home season (November 2015), off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin had said the ball was losing shape too quickly.
While such grievances are justified in some cases, the ball often cops unfair criticism from captains and their bowlers when the results don’t go their way. And it’s not an India-specific thing but universal. The reason perhaps is that a cricket ball is one of the few things in the sport where cricketers have no choice. Batsmen pick their bats; home captains and coaches have a say in the pitch. However, which brand of the ball they get to play with is the prerogative of the home board — in most cases, the choice of brand is also a matter of tradition.
Ball manufacturers often point out that when the wickets are coming, no bowler would like the ball to be changed – Which is probably why there was hardly any complaint regarding the ball in Pune or Bangalore. They only swarm the umpire with complaints when they are going wicketless, as they did in Ranchi when Marsh and Handscomb frustrated them for 62 overs on a Day Five pitch.
All this is not to suggest that Kohli’s latest complaint cannot be legit. No matter how much consistency they strive for, any sports equipment manufacturer will tell you that no two cricket balls are similar. And therefore, some discrepancy is to be expected in the behaviour of two lots of balls. It’s possible that the lot used in Ranchi indeed went softer faster than those employed in Bangalore or Pune, and made batting look easy. Conversely, maybe it didn’t. Just that substandard pitches on those two venues and consequent premature endings meant we will not know how the ball would have behaved deep into the fifth day with two batsmen resolutely stonewalling.