No to SG from India. Neither Australian Kookaburra. Can the English Dukes survive the test to qualify as the universal ball for Test cricket! The question gains significance in the light of adverse remarks about the SG and Kookaburra balls by two heavyweights of world cricket – Indian skipper Virat Kohli and former South African captain Graeme Smith.
In less than a month after Kohli had hit SG out of the park as not worthy enough for Test match cricket, Smith has beaten Kookaburra to be too so soft for hardships of the conventional format of the game.
First it was R Ashwin to express dissatisfaction with the SG Test balls as he struggled to take wickets in home conditions where he has scalped almost 70% of his Test cricket victims. All with the SG Tet balls. Kohli, while backing the most successful Team India baller at present, dismissed the homemade SG balls, which have stood the test of the time for almost two decades ever since becoming the official Test match ball of the Board for Control for Cricket in India in 1991. Duke was the choice of the Indian captain, in whose opinion Kookaburra “is still good quality”.
“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,” Kolhi had stated while dismissing SG Test balls for not being the same good cherry it once used to be. Kohli’s intent and observation on any aspect of the game carries too much a weight to be dismissed. If he has raised an issue, it can’t just be baseless.
However, the BCCI is going to stick with the Sanspareils Greenlands-manufactured SG Test balls. SG, mastering the trade of cricket gear for almost nine decades, will be making “minor” altercations following a feedback from the players.
Kohli’s positive opinion about Kookaburra was dismissed by Smith. “For me, the ball in Test cricket is a huge issue. I saw some of the boys (Ashwin and Kohli) complaining about the SG. In particular, the Kookaburra ball is letting people down. It’s a ball that softens and does not swing for a long period of time. I think Test cricket cannot afford to have boring draws. It needs the ball to spin; it needs the ball to swing and move in the air. It needs competition between the bat and the ball so as to keep Test cricket stay relevant,” said Smith at the annual Jagmohan Dalmiya Lecture at Eden Gardens yesterday (Friday).
Can Dukes balls survive the ‘test’ in Indian conditions? Not really, opines Paras Anand, Director Sanspareils Greenlands. “Conditions and pitches in England are different than here. Two brands cannot be compared on the basis of test results in two distinct conditions.
“There are results in almost every Test match now. That means at least one team is taking 10 wickets in an innings not just once but twice. There are centuries being scored in almost every Test match. There are plenty of big hits. High-scoring Test matches are getting over in less than five days. So there are results, there are runs and there are wickets. Then what is missing? In India there have been occasions when the captains have delayed the option of taking the second new ball.
“Cricket has evolved over the years. The limited overs game has influenced the way conventional cricket was played. These changes needed minor alterations in the ball. That does not mean there is an issue with the material or the product. This is a continuous process. I will not be surprised if some other player might find issues with some other brand. Occasional issues with a particular ball or lot cannot be ruled out, though,” adds Anand.
Can there be a permanent solution to the questions raised by Kohli and Smith? A permanent solution seems highly unlikely. The quality and productivity of a cricket ball will vary from series to series and conditions to conditions just like the opinions around them.
Even Dukes being the best cannot be a universal truth. The Dukes balls, manufactured by the British Cricket Balls Limited since 1760, has been replaced by the white Kookaburra balls for one-day internationals ever since the 1999 World Cup as it then behaved more erratically than the Australian brand.