Use Dukes ball in Australia Tests - Cowan
Ed Cowan, the former Australia Test batsman, has declared the new Dukes ball being trialled in the Sheffield Shield this season should be seriously considered for use as the Test match ball of choice down under.
Having smashed it for an innings of 212 for New South Wales against Victoria at the MCG over the past two days, Cowan paradoxically praised the Dukes - a version of which has been specially devised for use in Australian conditions - for offering more help to the bowlers.
That much was seen later on day three of the match when Trent Copeland and Sean Abbott swung it prodigiously to help the Blues put the Bushrangers under immense pressure with one day of the match remaining. Cowan told ESPNcricinfo the balls had stood up on a pair of diverse pitches at the MCG and also last week in a second XI match he played at Geelong.
"I think the Dukes is a far superior cricket ball to the Kookaburra in terms of the quality of contest between bat and ball," he said. "They certainly stay in shape, they're harder for longer, they consistently swing, there's a little bit there for the bowlers all day if you're good enough to bowl well, but you can get some runs if you're disciplined with the bat.
"From Australian cricket's point of view I'd love Cricket Australia to look really hard at using Dukes balls in Test cricket in Australia because I think the quality of the ball is superior. I've been lucky enough to play a bit of cricket in England and use the Dukes a bit. I've always found you just have to be really disciplined on the front foot, particularly day one or two of a four-day fixture, you can't bully the ball off the front foot through the off side.
"You've got to play the ball late, respect the ball when they pitch it up and really wait for the bowler to come to you. It doesn't change your plan too much at the top of the order but I certainly think those overs 50-80 with a Kookaburra ball, where a batsman can really dictate terms and hit bowlers off a good length, you can't get away with a Dukes and that keeps bowling sides in it for longer."
The Victoria stand-in captain Cameron White has wondered at the point of using the Dukes in Shield matches where most likely contenders for the 2019 Ashes are otherwise engaged, but Cowan noted the trial had offered a competitor to Kookaburra the opportunity to show its wares. The traditional manufacturers of Australian cricket balls have been heavily occupied with developing a pink ball for day/night Test cricket in recent times, and is believed to be eager for CA feedback on how the red version can be improved.
"I know CA brought it in under the public guise of preparing for 2019 - I don't know whether politically they're trying to put some pressure on Kookaburra," Cowan said. "But regardless of whether you're playing in Shield rounds and might go on an Ashes tour, I think they've actually fallen over a better cricket ball to use in Australian conditions.
"We used it in a second XI game last week in Geelong on a very different wicket and it held up beautifully and swung consistently. It responds to overhead conditions well. I think it's good to have some competition in town because the Kookaburra balls have been poor in domestic cricket for a couple of years now."
Among the bowlers, the South Australia seamer and recent 12th man for Australia Chadd Sayers said the Dukes was a ball that rewarded the pacemen provided they could control its swing early on. "It was hard to control early with the lacquer on the ball but the ball stays harder for longer which is great for a bowler," Sayers said after the first innings of SA's loss to Western Australia at Glenelg Oval.
"A few swung down the leg side, which wasn't supposed to happen. You've just go to find a way to make the ball work in your favour, which I think we did eventually. It probably took us five overs to work out what was going on."
Cowan's innings was watched by the interim selector Greg Chappell, a noted advocate of youth. Both men have had disagreements with each other in the past, before Chappell helped remodel Cowan's approach to batting following his ejection from the Test team in 2013.
"We have had an evolving relationship and a positive one," Cowan said of Chappell. "We've had our moments of disagreement, but he has a great view of the game and needs to be respected. As a selector there's obviously a general feel of picking youth that has its merits if the young guys are good enough.
"I'm still a fan of the best Test and one-day team being picked for every game, but it's good to see young guys get an opportunity if they deserve it, I think that's the key. Greg has a great mind on cricket, a great technical eye and Australian cricket is very lucky to have such a fine servant."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig