Indian domestic cricket February 7, 2009

Decoding the SG and Kookaburra

Dear readers,
38

Dear readers,

A couple of years ago the BCCI decided to use Kookaburra balls in the Duleep Trophy to give our domestic players a feel of this type of ball, as at the international level, except for the Test cricket played in India and England, this ball is commonly used.

We, in India, use the SG Test ball and England plays with either a Duke or a Readers ball (these two are quite similar to the SG Test balls used in India). But even that is restricted only to the red balls because the shorter formats all over the world are played with the white Kookaburra ball.

It was exactly the same in the Indian domestic circuit till the introduction of the Kookaburra ball for the Duleep Trophy. The longer format, before this move, was played with the SG Test ball and the one-day matches with the white Kookaburra ball.

Every time the Indian team tours overseas we hear a lot about the difficulty our players face in getting used to the Kookaburra ball in the Test matches. One might just wonder what the fuss is all about. After all it's the same leather ball; the size, shape and the weight are exactly the same, regardless of the brand. All this is true, but let me assure you that there's a huge difference in the way different balls behave in the air and off the surface.

I'll start with the SG Test ball first, which has a more pronounced seam and which remains pronounced for almost the entire length of the innings. The pronounced seam helps the faster bowlers release the ball in an upright seam position, as it doesn't wobble much after the release, and it helps the spinners grip the ball better and also get purchase off the pitch because the seam enables the ball to grip the surface.

The SG Test ball doesn't swing much when it's new but as soon as one side (half) of the ball becomes shinier than the other, it starts swinging appreciably. The good thing for the bowlers is that the shine lasts longer and hence helps both the quicker bowlers as well as the slower ones. The quicker men get swing in the air and the slower bowlers get the essential drift.

Though the Kookaburra ball also has a pronounced seam, it fades away rather quickly. The new ball does all kinds of things in the air and off the surface but once the seam gets embedded in the surface (which happens too quickly for the bowlers' liking), it ceases to move quite as much. The lack of a pronounced seam not only makes it difficult for spinners to grip the ball but it also denies them purchase off the surface because the ball, instead of gripping the turf, just skids along. Finger spinners are the worst hit in this case and hence have to put a lot of revolutions (we call it work) on the ball to get something off the track. Wrist spinners face no such problem as they don't rely on the seam to grip the surface to get the desired amount of spin. One can always put more work on the ball with the wrist as compared to the fingers.

Now, there's a particular way to bowl with different balls. The faster bowlers who release the ball instead of hitting the deck are fairly successful with the SG Test ball. Since the shine stays for longer and so does the pronounced seam, the ball swings and seams the whole day if one can release the ball with an upright seam on a regular basis.

On the contrary, the Kookaburra ball doesn't swing even half as much once it gets old. One must hit the surface hard to get something out of it. The typical swing bowlers are easy picking as the ball doesn't do much in the air or off the surface once it loses its shine.

In this blog, I've tried to explain the basic difference in the two different brands of balls used in Indian cricket. Now, how much of it has helped i.e. has it helped and how is it handled at the ground level... I shall tell you some interesting facts and tales about that in the next post.

Till then, goodbye.

P.S. I wanted to share a small detail with you guys. The reviews of my book Beyond the Blues are out and the initial signs are very encouraging, almost all of them have written good things about the book. I'm assuming that it's true. Tx.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

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  • scuba on July 30, 2010, 17:47 GMT

    Very informative post. Thanks for taking the time to share your view with us.

  • Jill Varela on June 14, 2010, 19:15 GMT

    Incredibly awesome read! Really.

  • ramesh on February 17, 2009, 10:22 GMT

    seems like sg ball is rather bowler friendly

  • Simrat on February 13, 2009, 3:42 GMT

    For all those who are suggesting standardisation of balls, I feel that diff. balls make the game for challenging and interesting. Great article. I live quite close to the place where Aakash used to live, and I remember there were quite a lot of celebrations and TV reporters when he was selected for Indian test team.

  • Stuart on February 12, 2009, 19:56 GMT

    It seems odd to me that when a Test side tours another country the ball is selected by the host. Batsmen don't have their equipment chosen for them so why should bowlers? Maybe if the players got to choose their ball it would make them more effective and Test cricket more exciting.

  • Karthik on February 12, 2009, 19:49 GMT

    Very nice article, good explanation and insights.

  • DK Desai on February 12, 2009, 19:27 GMT

    Hello Akash, Excellent! Your writing and analytical skills are as elegant as your strokeplay in the V!

  • Jason on February 12, 2009, 16:57 GMT

    Excellent article, as always. Great addition to cricinfo!

  • Sagar Parekh on February 12, 2009, 11:21 GMT

    Hi Akash, this is my first I have read your article & really found it informative. I would just like to say i have been very impressed with the knowledge & experience that you are sharing with the fans,aspiring players & casual reeaders. Please keep up the good work.

    p.s I am living in London & would like to request you if it is not too much trouble for you, could you kinldy recommend a good academy/coach for a left arm orthodox spinner in India as I would like to take my younger brother who is 21 years old there to develop his skills further, he is currently playing in Sussex Premier League. Your help would be much appreciated. Many Thanks.

  • Shahab Jafri on February 12, 2009, 6:07 GMT

    Hi Akash, The article on the difference between Kookaburra and SG Test ball was just amazing. For somebody like me who play Cricket at smaller level the facts were just amazing and coming from somebody who has played at International level only lends it more authenticity and credibility. I am sure from now on I would be deeply studying the way different balls behave in the air,on the turf, new and old etc. there are so many dimensions I would be looking at as the Captain of my side. I would like to thank you for giving such a detailed account and I am sure this would help all the Cricketers. I would request you to continue writing more of such informative pieces and I am sure your book is going to disappear from the shelves sooner than later since not only are you a great Batsman but you are as good a writer too which is a rare combination. I hope to see you sitting ion the commentator box soon and listen to some great and correct commentary couipled with Cricketing anecdotes.

  • dinesh on February 12, 2009, 4:34 GMT

    Hi Akash, good one u are one of the most unluckiest cricketer i saw u in 2004 here in aus it is because of u india did well as u faced most of the new ball and prevented any loss initially and Dravid and VVS took over from there but ur contribution though looked small in terms of runs was really huge which was rarely mentioned by our great cricket pundits! Dinesh

  • Amit on February 11, 2009, 13:08 GMT

    Another good article, Aakash. Any ideas where I can get hold of your book in the UK?

  • aditya on February 9, 2009, 15:49 GMT

    i wonder why the ICC cant standardize balls? just like formula-1 relies only on bridgestone tyres for all cars (they had michelin but not anymore), why cant ICC just stick to one type of balls across all countries in all matches.

    by the way, nice article akash. its really good to get these insights from someone who has played as much cricket as you have

  • Davebernard on February 9, 2009, 15:30 GMT

    Good insight as usual. Perhaps a comment or two re the types of Willow used in different countries, please Akash.

  • thomas on February 9, 2009, 13:39 GMT

    Dear Akash, Why not have the same brand of ball all over the world? We should standardise getting the panel so that the game dose not suffer. I do have one suggestion for you Akash some one of your skills should be doing keep writing these blogs. Akash keep it comming in

  • Arun on February 8, 2009, 1:44 GMT

    Akash reminds me of NFL commentrators like John Madden who explain complex rules of the game so well that it becomes easy for even a beginner to understand the game. I have probably read only one other article which explained the difference between the various types of balls. Also it's rare for a desi writer or comm to dissect things so well. Sunil Gavaskar does it. Keep it coming Akash.

    Coming to this article, the difference between the various types of balls is probably as much of a reason as pitches in different countries for the success bowlers enjoy. We must understand these basics before we berate Bhajji and Kumble for not bowling well, say, downunder. Maybe Murali's lack of familiarity with SG balls explains why he's done nothing of note in India but picks wickets by the bagful against the same opponents at home where he's probably bowling with the Kookaburra.

    We need more Akashes in the commentary booth.

  • Mani on February 8, 2009, 0:27 GMT

    Anand- Kookaburra is the name of an Australian bird. They sound very much like a human laughter..

  • k k sharma on February 8, 2009, 0:24 GMT

    hi ajay this kk sharma former fast bowler from central zone i m really very happy as u was not a fast bowler but how beautifully explain the difference between s g and kokabura i would like to add one thing in that the ability of the sg ball leather to give the shine more after rubbing the ball is better why let me tell u because the wax s g manufacturers are using is the basic diffrence which is related with the shine thanks ajay i think u must be remembering me kk sharma match referee b c c i panel pl keep it up ajay i have just started reading your blogs

  • priyadarshan on February 7, 2009, 23:04 GMT

    Dear Aakash Thanks for the fantastic post. I am preparing to be an umpire in Australia. This would definitely help. I am happy that it comes from one of the most beautiful and technically correct batsmen. Good luck and best regards Priyadarshan Sydney Australia

  • Amine on February 7, 2009, 22:53 GMT

    To answer Anand above me: the kookaburra is an Australian bird similar to the kingfisher. A picture of the kookaburra bird is on one side of every kookaburra ball, which is why you often hear commentators talk about "shining the bird", which means shining the side of the ball on which the bird is shown.

  • Shivanker on February 7, 2009, 20:50 GMT

    Kookaburra is an australian bird and the brand gets the name from the bird i guess.Also called the laughing bird, for its hysterical laughter like call (the bird not the ball ie). As for the article. Excellent as usual. Aakash, I can only say that PLEASE hang in there. I guess India has good openers as of now in both formats but sooner or later you may well get a chance in test cricket. I think you were one of the best openers we had for last 20 years. I am sure you will come back. How about the Duke ball? Does it behave exactly the same as SG. Btw, SG is short for Sanspareils Greenlands and is mostly made in Meerut, my hometown.

  • Anand on February 7, 2009, 17:17 GMT

    Really happy for your success on the "Beyond the blues" Interesting is the way you find different topics to write about. Making writing or should I say blogging as interesting as watching Indian batsman on song. Thanks for making reading a pleasure.

    Knew most of differences between SG and Kookaburra. But how did Kookaburra get its name?

  • Rex on February 7, 2009, 16:35 GMT

    Hello! I'm trying to learn the intricacies of the game and this was a very useful article. I feel I will understand better what you have said when I obseve the balls side by side. So in that respect, this article may be called "theory", but it's one of the most interesting bits of theory I've read. Thank you! I'll check out the book- I've always wanted to know how is the domestic scene in India and how the players get on with their lives. I hear it's an accurate depiction.

  • Sam on February 7, 2009, 15:48 GMT

    Hi Akash, Good article. I wouldn't mind technical articles like this once in a while. Thanks for the insight, Samuel

  • cricfan on February 7, 2009, 14:14 GMT

    well written article from you Akash. Luck may not be on your side to get into the test cricket, I guess you are going to have a wonderful career as a coach and analyst in future.

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  • cricfan on February 7, 2009, 14:14 GMT

    well written article from you Akash. Luck may not be on your side to get into the test cricket, I guess you are going to have a wonderful career as a coach and analyst in future.

  • Sam on February 7, 2009, 15:48 GMT

    Hi Akash, Good article. I wouldn't mind technical articles like this once in a while. Thanks for the insight, Samuel

  • Rex on February 7, 2009, 16:35 GMT

    Hello! I'm trying to learn the intricacies of the game and this was a very useful article. I feel I will understand better what you have said when I obseve the balls side by side. So in that respect, this article may be called "theory", but it's one of the most interesting bits of theory I've read. Thank you! I'll check out the book- I've always wanted to know how is the domestic scene in India and how the players get on with their lives. I hear it's an accurate depiction.

  • Anand on February 7, 2009, 17:17 GMT

    Really happy for your success on the "Beyond the blues" Interesting is the way you find different topics to write about. Making writing or should I say blogging as interesting as watching Indian batsman on song. Thanks for making reading a pleasure.

    Knew most of differences between SG and Kookaburra. But how did Kookaburra get its name?

  • Shivanker on February 7, 2009, 20:50 GMT

    Kookaburra is an australian bird and the brand gets the name from the bird i guess.Also called the laughing bird, for its hysterical laughter like call (the bird not the ball ie). As for the article. Excellent as usual. Aakash, I can only say that PLEASE hang in there. I guess India has good openers as of now in both formats but sooner or later you may well get a chance in test cricket. I think you were one of the best openers we had for last 20 years. I am sure you will come back. How about the Duke ball? Does it behave exactly the same as SG. Btw, SG is short for Sanspareils Greenlands and is mostly made in Meerut, my hometown.

  • Amine on February 7, 2009, 22:53 GMT

    To answer Anand above me: the kookaburra is an Australian bird similar to the kingfisher. A picture of the kookaburra bird is on one side of every kookaburra ball, which is why you often hear commentators talk about "shining the bird", which means shining the side of the ball on which the bird is shown.

  • priyadarshan on February 7, 2009, 23:04 GMT

    Dear Aakash Thanks for the fantastic post. I am preparing to be an umpire in Australia. This would definitely help. I am happy that it comes from one of the most beautiful and technically correct batsmen. Good luck and best regards Priyadarshan Sydney Australia

  • k k sharma on February 8, 2009, 0:24 GMT

    hi ajay this kk sharma former fast bowler from central zone i m really very happy as u was not a fast bowler but how beautifully explain the difference between s g and kokabura i would like to add one thing in that the ability of the sg ball leather to give the shine more after rubbing the ball is better why let me tell u because the wax s g manufacturers are using is the basic diffrence which is related with the shine thanks ajay i think u must be remembering me kk sharma match referee b c c i panel pl keep it up ajay i have just started reading your blogs

  • Mani on February 8, 2009, 0:27 GMT

    Anand- Kookaburra is the name of an Australian bird. They sound very much like a human laughter..

  • Arun on February 8, 2009, 1:44 GMT

    Akash reminds me of NFL commentrators like John Madden who explain complex rules of the game so well that it becomes easy for even a beginner to understand the game. I have probably read only one other article which explained the difference between the various types of balls. Also it's rare for a desi writer or comm to dissect things so well. Sunil Gavaskar does it. Keep it coming Akash.

    Coming to this article, the difference between the various types of balls is probably as much of a reason as pitches in different countries for the success bowlers enjoy. We must understand these basics before we berate Bhajji and Kumble for not bowling well, say, downunder. Maybe Murali's lack of familiarity with SG balls explains why he's done nothing of note in India but picks wickets by the bagful against the same opponents at home where he's probably bowling with the Kookaburra.

    We need more Akashes in the commentary booth.