A major controversy is brewing in Australian cricket over the choice of ball and many of the arguments could find echo right here in India where the ICC T20 World Championship is being played.
Almost all international limited overs cricket, including the current T20 World Championship in India, is played with the Kookaburra white ball. The Kookaburra is an Australian product and is used in many parts of the world. Dukes balls are used in England while SG is the preferred one in India. However, Kookaburra has a near monopoly in limited overs cricket with its white ball.
In dew-soaked conditions, as in India during the second innings of the World T20 matches, spinners find it very difficult to grip the ball. This has vexed cricket authorities sufficiently for them to advance the start of semi-finals and final by 30 minutes.
But, as could be seen from the India versus West Indies clash in Mumbai on Thursday, even an early start was of little help as Indian bowlers, particularly in the latter half of the chase, struggled to come to terms with the dew. So much so that spin bowling kingpin Ravichandran Ashwin was struggling to grip the wet ball and ended up bowling just two overs in the semi-final.
Batting legend Sunil Gavaskar in his column drew attention to former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd’s observation that knock-out matches must be played during the day when the absence of dew ensures a level-playing field for both teams.
The issue of dew has dogged cricket administrators for long. The Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) once experimented with an anti-dew agent on the outfield. The spray was supposed to leave a thin, non-toxic film on the blades of grass. Dew, when it fell, would not stay on the grass but instead would slide off into the ground.
The treatment called for the outfield to be sprayed a couple of times before the start of the match. It seemed to work for a while though KSCA said they could not come to any definite conclusion on its effectiveness.
Last season, in the Karnataka Premier League, KSCA also experimented with the pink Dukes ball.
“The players said they needed a ball with a better seam and hence we tried out the pink Dukes ball. It worked out well and it also withstood the wet conditions that prevailed during the month of September,” said Brijesh Patel, KSCA honorary secretary.
The ball, such an important ingredient of the game, has become an issue not just for its colour (red, white, pink) but also in the way it is currently manufactured.
All cricket balls are made of cow leather. Experts believe the Southern Hemisphere leather is drier because of the heat and dry weather conditions and hence prone to cracking while the Northern Hemisphere leather is softer and easier to work with.
Of course all cricket-ball leather is excessively treated with chemicals to get the desired results. While cricket balls are generally machine-made, the real high quality ones used in international cricket are all hand-stitched. Not surprisingly, the rising cost of labour forced both Dukes and Kookaburra to outsource their manufacture to India and Pakistan.
The advantage with Dukes is that it has a prouder seam and its chemical treatment process of the leather helps it to handle the early part of the English season (April, May) when ground conditions could be expected to be wet. Kookaburra is made for drier weather and is used in many other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
However, recently, Cricket Australia decided to opt for the Dukes ball for the second half of next season. They reckon that the Dukes ball swings more because of the seam and quality of the leather and this would help them prepare better in the quest for the Ashes. Naturally there are howls of protest.
Already, South Africa have indicated that they would prefer to switch to Dukes ball and it is only a question of time before the English company enters into the limited overs arena, too, in a big way.
For Indian bowlers such a shift would hold glad tidings because the more pronounced seam would aid both the medium pacers and spinners. There is also the hope that the ball would not lose some of its characteristics because of excessive dew.
And to believe we thought cricket was a simple game!