The BCCI introduced Kookaburra balls in the Duleep Trophy to give domestic players a feel of the ball. The brand is used world over for international cricket, save for Test cricket in India and England. While India use SG Test balls, England play with either Duke or Readers ball, quite similar to SG Test balls.
Every time the Indian team tours overseas, we hear a lot about the difficulty our players encounter in getting used to the Kookaburra ball in Test matches.
A layman may wonder what difference does the ball make, especially when the shape, size and weight remain the same, but let me assure that there’s a massive difference in how different balls behave in the air and off the surface.
Let me begin with SG Test ball. It has a more pronounced seam, which stays that way for almost the entire length of the innings.
It helps the quick bowlers release the ball in an upright seam position, as it doesn’t wobble much after releasing, and helps the spinners grip the ball better and get more purchase off the wicket as the seam grips the surface well.
The ball doesn’t swing much when new, but starts swinging when one half becomes shinier than the other.
As the shine stays longer, it enables quick bowlers get the swing and slower bowler the drift. The quicks who ‘release’ the ball instead of hitting the deck are more successful with the SG ball as they can get it swing and seam the whole day.
The Kookaburra ball, on the other hand, also has a pronounced seam, but it fades away quickly.
It does all kind of things in the air and off the surface when new, but once the seam gets subdued, it stops moving alarmingly.
One must hit the deck hard to get something out of it. Hence, the typical swing bowlers are easy pickings with the old ball.
The spinners, too, find it tough to grip, and doesn’t get much purchase off the wicket as the ball just skids instead of gripping the surface.
Finger spinners are the worst hit, as they have to put on a lot of revolutions (work) on the ball. The wrist spinners are less affected, as they don’t rely on the seam to grip the surface.
The question now is, are the Kookaburra balls in the Duleep Trophy serving the purpose? Maybe yes, but only marginally, as only a handful, and that too just once a year, play with the ball.
With the tournament now played on knockout basis, only a few get more than one game to practice with the ball. But even they would find it difficult to remember its nuances after one full year.
That brings me to the conclusion that using Kookaburra balls in the Duleep Trophy is serving little purpose. I would suggest that every alternate round of the Ranji Trophy be played with Kookaburra balls. It will give every player in the domestic cricket the feel of the ball and also provide a different kind of challenge.
If exposed to Kookaburra early, our fast bowlers would learn to hit the deck hard, spinners would learn to put more ‘work’ on the ball, batsmen would learn to bat cautiously when the ball is new, and our curators would learn to make hard and bouncy tracks.