Fast bowlers had made early inroads and the opposition seemed to be on the mat. The team was being taken to pieces when the middle and the lower order pulled their team back. Just when they seemed to be cruising, the opposition sprung back into action with crucial breakthroughs, giving them the leeway to steer the game. Often, such a spin-off comes up around the 80th over when the fielding side takes the second new ball.
Subsequently, it’s this new ball that decides the face of the scorecard for the team batting first, for the wickets taken off it is what seals the innings.
This is the story of a typical Duleep trophy game.
Chances are that one may have failed to spot the striking parallels between most Duleep Trophy matches, barring the recently concluded final match where West made history.
What is it about the second new ball that becomes so pivotal? Well, it is the ball itself — The Kookaburra instead of the regular SG Test.
The new Kookaburra ball moves appreciably in the air and off the surface and hence accounts for early wickets. Perhaps a smart way to deal with this is to pitch the ball slightly fuller (to allow the ball to swing more) and make the batsman play maximum number of deliveries. Since the quality of bowlers at this level is pretty decent they don’t take time to adjust. Batsmen are required to tweak their feet movement substantially along with assessing the lines of the ball. This adjustment is a tad more difficult than the one expected of bowlers. And thus batsmen invariably succumb.
Now you would wonder that scoring tons in such a situation is a task, perhaps reason enough for you to credit the middle and lower middle order for their rescue act. But hang on; let me give you an insight on how things pan out. The moment this red Kookaburra loses its shine and seam (which gets embedded in the surface), the ball ceases to perform tricks. This makes the quicks ineffective and batting considerably easier. To make matters worse for the bowling side, most of our spinners don’t know how to use the Kookaburra effectively. Finger spinners are not used to putting extra spin on the ball (as they can get away with putting less spin on the SG Test ball) and there aren’t too many wrist spinners. I am reminded of VVS Laxman’s assessment of a dearth of quality spinners which gets reiterated in India’s premier domestic tournament.
What happens out on the pitch thereafter is predictable. While the batting side waits for the Kookaburra to lose its sheen, the bowling line-up hangs in to get hold of the new ball.
A quick check shows that most centuries scored in this Duleep season have come from middle-order batsmen, which include as many as three double centuries in just four matches. Only two openers scored centuries, even that on 4th-day wickets, which obviously don’t help quick bowlers that much.
So, it may not be a bad idea to read the scorecards and performances keeping these dynamics in mind.