SG, the official suppliers of Test balls in India, said on Thursday they are open to raise the seam of the cherry to placate Team India who have gone increasingly vocal in their criticism of its quality and feel. On the eve of the second Test against the West Indies, Virat Kohli tore into the SG red ball saying that it was inferior to the Dukes (used in England and the West Indies) and the Kookaburra Test ball. The India captain even went to the extent of recommending Dukes for Test cricket all over the world.
“As I understand, the main issue is the seam of the ball,” SG’s marketing director Paras Anand told The Indian Express. “The players want a more prominent seam. We can raise it by a mm or 1.5 mm. It’s isn’t something that can’t be done. After the series is over, we will sit with the BCCI and see what they have to say,” added Anand, who is a third-generation member of the family that runs the Meerut-based company.
While the ball business contributes only a small fraction of SG’s annual turnover, their association with the BCCI affords them considerable brand equity. It seems in peril now after Kohli’s vociferous testimonial in favour of the Dukes ball.
“The Dukes ball is the most suited ball for Test cricket,” said Kohli at the pre-match press conference in Hyderabad. “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.”
Before Kohli, of-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin had said that he felt better bowling with Kookaburra balls than SG. “Right now, I would say the Kookaburra red ball is a lot better ball, Dukes is also right up there. Pretty disappointed with the current SG ball. It used to be top-notch, the seam used to stand up strong even after 70-80 overs. It’s not the same anymore,” Ashwin had said after the first Test.
“I totally agree with him,” added Kohli. “To have a ball scuffed up in five overs is something that we haven’t seen before. The quality of the ball used to be quite high before and I don’t understand the reason why it has gone down. A Dukes ball is still good quality, Kookaburra is still good quality. Whatever limitations a Kookaburra might have (a flatter seam than Dukes and SG), the quality is never compromised,” Kohli explained. However, a promoter of an Indian sports goods manufacturing firm, who didn’t wish to be named, said the pitches in India also play a role in balls getting scuffed up early.
“In England, the outfields and pitches are verdant. Therefore, the degradation of the ball is slower. In India, too, there are good outfields these days, but the pitches we have been producing over the last three-four years have been abrasive. So the ball deteriorates much faster. Dukes balls haven’t been tested in such conditions, so it’s difficult to say whether they will maintain their quality for longer periods than SGs in Indian conditions.” It doesn’t mitigate the quality charges, however, as the pitch for the first Test in Rajkot held firm and the outfield was also lush. Yet, the ball began to lose shape very early in the game. “The seamers as well are benefitted if the ball is hard. You can get that extra pace, but if the ball goes so soft in 10-12 overs, your effort comes down by 20 per cent. I think the quality of the ball has to be maintained. Otherwise, you have too many dead sessions in a Test match, which you don’t want to see. You want to see exciting cricket and guys working hard for runs, being in the battle all day. I totally agree with Ash,” Kohli said.
BCCI to take stock
Meanwhile, the BCCI said it will “take stock” of the situation. “It’s an opinion of the team members, which is perfectly in order. The BCCI will take stock of the situation,” a BCCI functionary said. “Whatever has been expressed will be discussed by the BCCI at an appropriate forum.” Another BCCI official, however, said the unanimous decision of the technical committee earlier this year was to continue with SG. “Virat Kohli is one of the best batsmen in the world. And he has scored a lot of runs when an SG ball was bowled to him. I suggest he continues to do that,” the official said.
Dukes vs the Rest
#The Dukes ball stays harder longer while the SG tends to soften up much earlier.
#The Dukes’ seam remains upright for longer, too, unlike the SG and Kookaburra balls, where the seam flattens out, which leads to neither the fast bowlers nor the seamers getting any assistance.
#The Dukes is a four-piece ball unlike the other two, and the seam is hand-stitched — with 80 stitches in all —which makes it more pronounced.
#The shape of the Dukes ball is slightly different, and more rounded, than the flatter Kookaburra and SG balls, which is why it gets raved about for its “feel in the hand”.
#The Dukes also uniquely has grease or wax added to each ball, which not only gives it the “red cherry” colour but also makes it more swing-friendly once the lacquer wears off.