From the street, it seems like a lifeless warehouse with two blue doors and the three numbers glued on the outside wall. But the minute you enter through the doors, the smell of leather, polish and turpentine reach your nostrils in a flash. "Welcome to the epicentre of cricket ball making," says Dilip Jajodia, the owner of the Dukes Ball brand.
Jajodia is now 72, had been working with cricket balls since 1983 and bought Dukes company four years later. Over 50,000 brand new shiny cricket balls leave this warehouse in East London and Jajodia is proud to announce that each ball has passed through his hands.
In the last few years, the durability of the cricket ball has been the talk of the cricketing world. In fact the Dukes ball's competitor ‘Kookaburra' has copped criticism for its lack of quality. But despite the current players supporting the Dukes ball, the ICC and the majority of the cricket boards are reluctant to use it, preferring to stick with the Australian made Kookaburra.
So what makes the Dukes ball so good? "Firstly, it is the quality of the leather. We get the leather from Scotland and the general thickness of it is around 4-4.5mm. Compare that to the SG ball in India and it is around 2 or 3mm." says Jajodia.
But perhaps the most distinctive feature of the hand-stitched Dukes ball is the way the two hemispheres are bound together.
"In a hand-stitched ball, all six rows (of the thread) are coming backward and forwards and underneath as well so not only there is tension, there is also some stitching." he says.
On the contrary, as Jajodia likes to put it "in the machine stitched Kookaburra Ball, the two outer rows are more or so for decoration."
This is the reason why the Duke Ball has a more prominent seam and why fast bowlers believe it feels more natural in their fingers. Jajodia is of the belief that the shoulder of the Dukes falls away a little more than it would in case of a machine-stitched Kookaburra, which feels far flatter.
So why is it then that the Duke ball tends to swing and seam more than Kookaburra? Is it purely due to the overhead conditions in England or the skill of the bowler or the way the ball is manufactured?
"Everyone needs to go back to basics," declares Jajodia.
"(Stuart) Broad can get it to seam because it [ball] has a prominent seam to get it to move off. As simple as that."
Once the stitching is completed and the ball takes a perfect shape, it is then polished and branded the Duke emblem. So the next question that comes in mind is why it is that the Duke ball is a lot darker in colour compared to the Kookaburra or the SG ball?
"In England, we add grease to the ball," Jajodia says. "The leather has to be protected from water, so you do that by applying grease, which is like putting cream on your skin. That is why the English balls are dark, once you put grease on English leather it will go dark, whereas Australian balls do not have grease in them, for you don't need grease (in Australia where it does not rain a lot). It makes the leather soft. You put cream on, your skin gets soft, the same thing happens with a cricket ball.
"But that (soft) leather is fine in England because we have got green grounds and everything is quite soft, but the grease to stop the water is needed. We apply it in the tanning process so that the leather itself is repelling water."
The theory is darker the ball the more grease it has absorbed, and if there is more grease in the leather, then you can shine it better, and therefore it will swing better.
There is also a final polish that is applied to the ball, to make them appear new and shiny. The commentators like to refer to it as 'lacquer'. It is a term that Jajodia doesn't agree with, preferring to call it as simply polish. Before saying once the polish is off they can apply sweat or saliva to it and make one side different to the other.
Then there are the three stern tests that ensure the ball meets all the standards. First, the shape and the size of the ball is checked by ensuring it passes through equipment that has three metal rings. Then it is weighed on a scale. Jajodia quickly informs that "it has to fit in the 156-162 gram range or we discard it".
The third test probably sums up the warehouse. On a wall just before you exit are three markings. Highest is six foot, the middle is a foot and a half, and the lowest is a foot.
"Every new ball gets dropped from here (6 foot) and has to rebound off the ground in between the bottom two markers (in the 15 cm range). If it doesn't, we believe it does not match the standards"
"It is a bit of catching game for my staff," he says with a laugh before adding "they never drop one". As you exit the warehouse and ask him so where is the stitching process?
"I cannot give you all my secrets – It is the reason why we keep making the best ball."