From red to white and now pink: The evolution of the humble cricket ball
“It’s red, round and weighs about five ounces,” Shaun Pollock once told Ricky Ponting after beating the Aussie’s outside edge.
We won’t get into Ponting’s classic riposte, but would instead focus on what Pollock said. To a casual cricket observer, the South African all-rounder’s cheeky remark serves as the simplest definition of a cricket ball.
Nothing dictates the course of a match, especially of the longer version, than the humble round thing weighing between 5 ½ oz to 5 ¾ oz (about 156-163 grams). Over the years, cricket balls have been central to the game’s evolution. Changing laws, ground conditions and formats have always demanded changes in the balls, and while the basics have remained intact, cricket balls have been witness to, as well as catalyst for, the evolution of the game in general.
As India begins its trial with the pink ball in the Duleep Trophy which began on Tuesday, we take a look at the changing nature of the ‘cherry’:
All cricket balls—red, white or pink—have the constant, basic composition. The core is made up of cork, which lends weight and bounce to the ball. It is layered with tightly wound strings, and covered by a leather case with a slightly raised, sewn seam.
In a top-quality ball, suitable for the highest levels of competition, the covering is constructed of four pieces of leather shaped similar to the peel of a quartered orange, but one hemisphere is rotated by 90 degrees with respect to the other.
The “equator” of the ball is stitched with string to form the ball’s prominent seam, with six rows of stitches. The remaining two joints between the leather pieces are stitched internally. Lower-quality balls with a two-piece covering are also popular for practice and lower-level competition due to their lower cost.
There are three main manufacturers of cricket balls used in international matches: Kookaburra, Dukes and SG.
The manufacturer of the red (or pink) balls used for Tests varies depending on location: India uses SG, England and the West Indies use Dukes, and all other countries use Kookaburra.
The red ones
Red balls are the earliest type of cricket balls used to play competitive cricket. Still used in day matches, they swing and seam early in the innings. Once old, they offer late, reverse swing. The swing and seam movements, however, depend greatly on pitch and ground conditions as well as the expertise of the bowler.
White balls were first introduced in World Series Cricket (WSC)—the breakaway league started by Karry Packer in 1977 in Australia. The WSC was the harbinger of a lot of ‘firsts’: it was the first professional cricket league, it introduced coloured clothing, floodlights, and of course, white balls.
Though an ODI World Cup was played barely two years before the WSC, the shorter format managed to grab attention only after the use of white balls and coloured clothing. Today, even ‘day’ ODIs use white ball. Visibility remains the primary—and most obvious—reason for not using a red ball to play day-night ODIs.
In ODIs, two new balls are used from either end, which means that a ball is effectively 25 overs old in a 50-over innings. It means more swing and movement in ‘day’ matches, and also more scoring opportunities as the newish ball comes quickly on the bat.
Pink is in
In 2009, the MCC made a recommendation to experiment with pink balls and since then it has been used by the ECB and CA as well.
Brett Elliot, the Kookaburra managing director, said in June last year that the pink ball is ready for Test cricket. In November 2015, Australia hosted New Zealand for the first-ever D/N Test. The Test, played at the Adelaide Oval, also marked the international debut of pink balls. Australia won the Test in three days and by three wickets.
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