Dukes (left) and Kookaburra cricket balls. Photo courtesy: Dallas Kilponen & Sydney Morning Herald.
Dukes (left) and Kookaburra cricket balls. Photo courtesy: Dallas Kilponen & Sydney Morning Herald.

Australian legend Jeff Thomson termed the Kookaburra cricket balls as ‘poor’ last week, while acknowledging that it is the only brand which has been used in Australia due to lack of competition among manufacturers of cricket balls. But as the competition intensifies between Kookaburra and Dukes — who have been making very aggressive moves to gain share in markets where they barely existed — it remains to be seen whether the Australian manufacturer meets the demands and address the deteriorating quality, or the Indian-owned English Dukes manages to achieve something big.

Speaking exclusively to CricketCountry on the sidelines of a MCA-IDBI event in which Thomson was revealed as the head of the program, the former Australian menacing bowler was straightforward in terming the traditional Kookaburra as ‘poor’. Thomson said, “You know its [Kookaburra] is a poor ball.”

The game of cricket has travelled a long and interesting journey as the world got mordenised. Unlike the past, pot-bellied men are rarely seen playing cricket for fun. Instead, lean and mean machines decorated with tattoos are taking cricket to greater heights, hitting the ball outrageously long, and hard, with thickest of bats. Think about anything cricket and you will find it changed, developed or even modified for good, the list is could be endless. But when it comes to one of the most important elements — the cricket ball — you will find that it has not changed a great deal. Perhaps the only change that has come about is the ball getting a new colour — pink — to felicitate day-night Test cricket.

It is a fact that Kookaburra has been the supplier to a lot of cricketing nations, and its pink cricket ball was the first to be used in the modern day-night Test between Australia and New Zealand at the Adelaide Oval in 2015-16. On the other hand, Dukes — hand-stitched in India and Pakistan — are used in England, and in some competitions in West Indies and South Africa.

But Kookaburra are not the only ones making the pink balls; Dukes have been making them too, and they have been trialed in the MCC versus County Champions matches in Abu Dhabi. India, all set to host their first-ever day-night Test in upcoming season, will be using the Kookaburras in that game, and if it works out well, they may as their official ball supplier — Sanspareils Greenlands (SG) — to start making them too. But it is a matter of distant future. ALSO READ: BCCI testing Dukes, Kookaburras to replace SG cricket balls in domestic & international matches

A general view of the Kookaburra cricket ball © Getty Images
A general view of the Kookaburra cricket ball © Getty Images

What is happening?

Kookaburra has been associated with Australian cricket ever since it was founded as Alfred Grace Thompson in 1890, but they are increasingly losing the favour among the players as well as the cricket management. There has been a sharp deterioration in quality, which has not gone down well with the cricketers. The ball has lost shape easily and early into the games, which is shocking because it is a machine-stitched ball meant to last long on the hard grounds and pitches in Australia.

During the Australia versus New Zealand series in 2015-16, David Warner and Doug Bracewell let out their frustration on frequent changes in the ball during the Perth Test. New Zealand even demanded the ball be changed a mere three deliveries into the second day! Even during West Indies’ tour of Australia, the issues with the balls persisted.

The precautionary, or to say, requisite steps have already been taken to see what is the best. Cricket Australia will have the second half of the revered Sheffield Shield with Dukes — which is no less than a revolutionary step in Australian cricket. The move is to facilitate the Australian cricketers get more habitual with the Dukes, with their struggles in England do not seem to be ending in both bowling and batting departments.

Kookaburra has acknowledged that if they run out of Australia’s favour, they are as good as finished. And there is more trouble in store for the Australian maker. New Zealand, who have been using Kookaburras since 1946, are contemplating on not renewing the contract that has been in place, and instead get Dukes for their talented bunch of seam bowlers.

New Zealand’s struggle with Kookaburra on their last Australian tour was evident, as the bowlers found it difficult to move the ball. The idea is to help their bowlers.  And when they look at someone like Neil Wagner excelling with the Dukes in England in County Championship, their idea of changing the ball gets a further boost.

Thomson is of the opinion that there has been very less competition as far as cricket ball manufacturing is concerned; adding that lack of competition can make one ‘uncompetitive’. He said, “Hopefully they [Cricket Australia] are trying to see whether the Duke last longer than Kookaburra. They are poor. I think you need competition to make sure somebody makes good balls. But if somebody gets a contract, like Kookaburras have been in Australia since I was playing! So why did anybody else not get a look in? In other words, no competition makes you uncompetitive.”

The Dukes cricket ball. Photo courtesy: Dukes website
The Dukes cricket ball. Photo courtesy: Dukes website

The difference:

The difference between the two balls is elementary. The hand-stitched Dukes with protruding seams help bowlers to get more movement with the red ball irrespective of the numbers of overs it has been used. It is a well-known fact that Dukes balls are more helpful for the bowlers than the hard Kookaburras that support seam movement for only a few initial overs. Kookaburra’s hardness makes it an obvious choice for the bouncy Australian wickets, and the wear and tear of this brand is lesser on the sun-baked wickets Down Under.

Dukes, on the other hand, are at its best when the field is covered by clouds, the chances of sun poking out are less and the pitch also has a tinge of grass. This is why in England, seam bowlers make merry as all they need to do is to learn the art of swing, practice hard to land the seam upright, and also maintain the ball extremely well. Perhaps this is why England won The Ashes 2010-11 Down Under, because they had specifically handed Alastair Cook the job to maintain the ball all the time with spit and a lot of rubbing, while others were instructed to not let the ball hit and roll over the hard grounds when it is not in play.

Confusion?

Thomson is not the only one who has welcomed the change in preference over the ball. Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne have strongly recommended Dukes to be used in Australia. Looking at the way Australians capitulated in England last Ashes, Ponting, who was working as a commentator, said the first change that he wants to recommend CA is of using the Dukes back home.

Australia know they struggle when the ball seams and swings, and they believe the best way to counter this problem is by playing with the Dukes ball in Shield cricket. The more bowlers play with Dukes, the more they will get used to it. But this is where confusion lies of some degree, which I believe is something that only time, will tell.

Dukes are the best when there are clouds hovering over, the pitches have some amount of grass and the field is also lush green. But in the Australian summer, where the temperatures soar to such unbearable degrees that during the Ashes 2013-14 Perth Test, the journalists in the press box were forced to put their laptops in the refrigerators around, how will it perform?

Another factor related to the heat is the ground: the more the ball rubs through the hard pitches and the field, the more it will wear off. It rains occasionally in Australia, and it is unlikely to have clouds hovering over for long periods Down Under.

VVS Laxman believes Dukes will do well in Australia, and they are hard enough for the sturdy fields. “Dukes are hard enough, you can expect them to do well in Australia,” Laxman told CricketCountry.

Thomson, on his part, says, “Duke has the seam and it will do something in Australia, do not worry about that.”

When asked about how conducive the Australian wickets will be for the Dukes, Thomson said, “They (bowlers) are simply going to make it harder for the batsmen for once. It is still the other way round…. (laughs). What? You want me to feel sorry for the batsmen? What I am saying is, the batsmen get everything their way. If the ball does something… good!”

Cricket balls have not gone through many changes, but a very stiff competition is folding out between the few ball manufacturers. There is Dukes, who want to grab new markets, and then there is Spartan, who also wants to throw their hat in. The battle rages on, and it remains to be seen who gains what and who loses out.

(Devarchit Varma is senior writer with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)