Updated: February 5, 2021 11:52:13 am
The India-England Test series that starts on Friday will be played with a modified ball. According to BCCI’s official suppliers Sanspareils Greenlands (SG), the new ball will have a pronounced seam, harder core and will be of a darker shade of red.
Here’s explaining the reason for the change and how it will help India’s bowlers, especially spinners.
Why the change?
For the past few years, the ball has been criticised by top Indian players like captain Virat Kolhi and off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. They have complained about the ball getting scuffed up early and losing hardness within the first 10 overs. Following feedback from the players, SG made changes and gave the handmade ball a machine-like finish. SG has been the official supplier for first-class cricket in India since 1993. Over the years, they have taken players’ feedback and modified the ball.
What has been the specific complaint of the cricketers?
Ashwin was vocal about the change in nature of the SG ball. “When I started playing Test cricket, the SG ball used to be top notch, and you could bowl with it even after the 70th or 80th over. The seam used to be standing up strong and straight. But it is not the same anymore,” Ashwin had told the official broadcaster during the home series against West Indies in 2018. After talking to the players in 2019, SG had been fine-tuning the manufacturing process for 18 months.
— BCCI (@BCCI) February 3, 2021
What is the change?
The ball will now have, as players like to say, uthi hui (pronounced) seam. The cork used inside the ball will be harder and it will have a darker shade of red. The ball is expected to bounce more and retain its hardness till the 60th over. “An important change is the seam. It is more pronounced now. The spinners especially wanted a seam which they can grip and thereby get more revolutions on the ball,” Paras Anand, the marketing director of SG, said.
Does a pronounced seam change the ball’s behaviour?
It certainly does. West Indian legend Michael Holding is of the view that this changed ball will help both pacers and spinners. “Firstly, the higher seam gives the bowler a better grip with his fingers. And especially for the spinner, the better grip gives him ability to impart more spin on the ball. For both the quickie and spinner, when the ball with the pronounced seam hits the pitch, it will deviate more because the higher the seam, the more friction created by the ball on the surface. If you think about the ball hitting the pitch with no friction created, there would be no deviation. Like bowling on glass where you get no friction and the ball just skids off straight,” he says.
Does it help in swing and reverse?
The ridge on the seam trips the air flowing towards it, creating turbulence and the ball is yanked off its straight path. A raised seam means the ridge would be higher and the swing larger, in theory. Thus helping in reverse.
Does a ball with a harder core also help bowlers?
Yes, it does. Extra hardness in the core, which is made of cork, and close quality checks of the leather used has made the new SG ball long-lasting, according the company. “Hardness will stay longer, say 50 to 60 overs. There will be something for the bowlers. The extra bounce too will help bowlers,” says Anand. During the 2018 home series against West Indies, Kohli had called for the Dukes ball to be used for Test cricket around the world, including in India. “To have the ball scuffed up in five overs is not something that we have seen before. The quality of the ball used to be quite high before and I don’t understand the reason why it’s gone down,” Kohli had said during that series. He had expressed concern that the ‘soft ball’ was bringing down the impact of bowlers by 20 per cent in unforgiving Indian conditions.
What about the colour of the ball?
India cricketers, over the years, have preferred balls with a darker shade of red. SG changed the dye and ‘went back’ to the colour the players were used to when most of them first played domestic cricket. “They (Indian cricketers) were happier with the darker shade of red. Over a period of time, you don’t realise and you don’t see the change. So, what they felt was that the colour used to be a darker shade of red. We have gone back to that dark shade. That request came from the Indian team. I feel it is more psychological. But they believed if you use a darker colour, you get a good result. Not just one bowler, a group of bowlers has said that and they felt that the darker the leather, the more helpful it is for the bowlers. Someone gives feedback and you listen. Nobody was in favour of a lighter colour,” Anand says.
Former India pacer RP Singh said there was no science to bowlers opting for a darker shade though there is a pattern. “There is a general feeling among fast bowlers that darker the ball the more it swings. There is no science to it,” he said. A prominent seam helps in gripping the ball better. “With a less prominent seam, it is tougher to swing the ball and you have to bang it harder, which means you have to strain much more.”
Is this change sudden?
Former India pacer Irfan Pathan noticed the evolution of the SG ball when India played South Africa at home in 2019. “I felt the seam was a little more prominent and the ball was much harder when I was doing commentary for the India vs South Africa series. I remember in the Pune game, the way the fast bowlers were bowling, it seemed like they were not bowling with an SG ball, but with a Kookaburra ball. The ball has become of better quality and lasts longer. I think because the seam is a lot more upright, you will see the fast bowlers getting a lot of help as well,” Pathan said.
Will the change help the Indian team?
Likely, since most changes are made based on the feedback received from Indian players. The prominent seam is expected to help spinners, since it will make the ball bounce and turn more. With India having a better spin attack than England and pitches expected to help slow bowlers, Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Washington Sundar and Axar Patel will be keen to have the new SG ball in their hands.
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