India’s troubles against the moving ball in this part of the world are well documented. The inability of the batsman, save for a majestic Rahul Dravid, to cope with the English bowling in 2011 exposed the chinks in the armour and led to a 0-4 drubbing. With the new ODI rules arming the bowling team with two new balls, India’s Champions Trophy hopes seem bleak, don’t they? Well, one shouldn’t be so sure of it.
For one thing, the pitches at Edgbaston and Cardiff are traditionally two of the better batting surfaces in the country, and going by the conditions in the warm-up matches, the pitches will be flat as pancakes. But, the decisive factor could well be the balls in use.
The basic manufacture of a cricket ball has remained unchanged since time immemorial. A cricket ball doesn’t have a standardised weight and varies from 156 grams to 163 grams. At the core is cork, which is wound with twine, before being encased in a four-piece leather support. Fixing glue is also applied on the strings to keep it intact. They are also not a perfect sphere, as you’d like to believe, and have a circumference of 224mm from one side and 229mm from the other.
Three types of balls are used in matches across the world. The machine-stitched Kookaburra, an Australian product, is used in most cricketing nations, and across the board for ODIs.
The Kookaburra has a wider and flatter seam, and hence is more difficult to grip for finger spinners. Many say this is the reason why Australia have difficulty in producing quality off-spinners, or why India offies like Harbhajan Singh and R Ashwin fail to get the same purchase when playing in Australia. It doesn’t affect wrist spinners in the same manner, as can be attested by Shane Warne’s glittering career stats.
Since, 2006 the BCCI has used Kookaburra balls for the Duleep Trophy, though every other domestic trophy and Test matches in India are played with SG balls. SG - owned by Paras J Anand was originally setup in Sialkot (present-day Pakistan) in 1931 but since Independence has been based in Meerut - uses a thicker string on the stitching and has a more prominent seam than the Kookaburra. It also retains its shape longer on hard and flat wickets. The prominent seam is beneficial for spinners as it helps them grip the ball better and enables the ball to rip off the surface. It’s also better for reverse swing as the shine stays for longer.
However, in 2012, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) became the last nation to adopt Kookaburra for ODIs, and going by the evidence in the warm-up match, the Kookaburra-turf ball swings a lot less than the Dukes.
Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Matthews agreed with the assessment in his press conference after a match that saw over 650 runs and not a single maiden.
The ball is definitely in the right court for Indian batters. Let’s hope they get in the swing of things from the word go!