'Ball please' is not the most referred to phrase in cricket, but is being heard often in Ranji Trophy games these days. With the quarter-finals on, it has become a chorus and the call is being made in different tunes of frequency across the four venues hosting these games.
The ball being shown to the umpires and them signalling for a fresh one is a common sight. Although the occurrence is not unusual, its regularity is. The question is whether all's well with the SG Test balls used in first-class and national-level matches in India?
The Bengal-Tamil Nadu match in Bangalore has seen this 12 times in three days, even in the third and sixth overs of an innings. This count is nine in Ahmedabad, five in Vadodara and four in Mumbai. The point is, this is not new.
The HT Correspondent following the UP team this season is witness to about 50 such incidents and also heard a match official of saying that the use of fake balls is rampant. The BCCI says it's up to the manufacturers to ensure quality, ruling out exploring other options.
A match referee in one of the games featuring Uttar Pradesh said the original balls supplied by the BCCI are not used. He said in some places, association officials make a profit by selling the SG Test balls and provide cheaper, poor quality balls.
“SG provides the best quality cricket balls in the country. The frequent changing of balls has come to our notice and we have told the manufacturers about this. Let the associations write to us and we shall look into it," said a BCCI official not willing to be quoted.
Officials of SG could not be contacted. It must be noted that the demand for balls is exceedingly high and the difference in India and some other countries is here these are handmade. The Kookaburra for instance, is machine made. Also, the huge quantity means it's that much tougher to ensure the best of quality control.
In Vadodara, local officials felt this was happening because the balls were "dry" and appeared outdated. "We can't blame the ground or pitch as it is happening in all matches. I find it mysterious," said a Baroda Cricket Association official. In Ahmedabad, a Himachal Pradesh player was surprised: "This is the first match this season that we are facing this problem. The stock of balls is of poor quality. Even after hitting the edge of the bat hard, it is getting disfigured."
In Bangalore as TV commentator, former Delhi and India medium-pacer Vivek Razdan was surprised too. “It's unusual to see it being replaced so many times.” He felt it can be difficult for the bowling side, which tries to maintain a ball by keeping the shine on one side. “The new ball may not have the same kind of shine on one side." The BCCI is trying to improve the standard of domestic cricket by offering better pay for players and making it more visible by making provisions for live coverage. This is one aspect it might pay attention to because it concerns a very basic condition of proper play.
(With inputs from Sharad Deep in Vadodara, G. Krishnan in Ahmedabad, Bivabasu Kumar in Mumbai)