What price cricket balls?
In the previous post I wrote about the decision, taken a couple of years ago, to use the Kookaburra ball in the Duleep Trophy. We were excited about this change, but we faced a strange situation right at the beginning. These Kookaburra balls are really expensive - over Rs 3000 - and hence were not made available for use in our practice sessions, even on the days before the matches. It was a little bizarre to practise with an SG Test ball when the game was to be played with the Kookaburra. But who were we to complain, and more importantly to whom?
The second bit of surprise came when the match referee explained the playing conditions to the captains. It was decided that the ball would not be changed even if it went out of shape. Reason? There weren't enough spare balls available! The hosting association was provided with only six to eight new balls to conduct the match, out of which one was to be used at the start of every innings in the match. They were given a cushion of four additional balls in case the teams took new balls after 80 overs. It goes without saying that the number of balls provided to the fielding team to choose the match ball from kept reducing by one with every innings. Normally, the fielding team is provided with 10-12 balls to choose from, but these were not normal balls.
Things changed in the following year. We were given adequate number of balls to practise with, but on the condition of returning it to the hosts after the net session. The host association was accountable for these balls, and had to return the balls to the BCCI after the game. Or so we were told. We didn't have a problem with this arrangement. The only difference from a normal training session was that we were still doing the fielding drills before the match with the same old SG Test balls. Things improve further this year, and we faced no such problem. There were more than enough balls to practise with and to choose the match balls from.
We at Delhi still face the same problem – the unavailability of the Kookaburra balls for practice ahead of the Ranji one-day tournament, which will be played with the white Kookaburra balls. We are told that the balls are too expensive, and hence we must make do with some other local brand that is white in colour, to get the feel of the white ball. We would be given an odd Kookaburra or two every now and then in the interim. I am struggling to get my head around this decision. Yes the balls are expensive, and must therefore be used sparingly, but definitely not as scarcely. If money is such an issue with the association then how the same association managed (if a newspaper article is to be believed) to spend Rs 40 lakh on buying tracksuits for the cops and another obscene amount (nearly Rs 28 lakh) for an AGM totally stumps me.
Ours is not the only association with this queer arrangement. Most associations across the country are doing exactly the same thing. To make matters even worse this isn't restricted to just Kookaburra balls. When it comes to the Ranji Trophy even the SG Test ball is considered a luxury that most teams can't enjoy during practice sessions. Instead they practise with other cheaper balls. Things aren't that bad with our association, though, when it comes to red balls.
Another question that comes to my mind about the whole exercise of using Kookaburra balls for the Duleep Trophy is, whether it really serves its purpose of getting the players used to a different brand? It makes little difference because we play with these balls only once in a year. And only a handful of players at that. With the Duleep Trophy format changed to knock-outs, a couple of teams play only one game each, which could easily be just one innings. And the lucky ones who got the feel for longer than the rest find it difficult to remember its nuances for one full year.
To me, the idea of using these balls is to help the players modify or even remodel their game to suit this ball, and hence make it better suited for international cricket. But since it happens only once a year, it serves very little purpose. I'd suggest that every alternate round of the Ranji Trophy should be held with the Kookaburra balls. It will give everyone playing domestic cricket the feel of the Kookaburra balls, and also provide a different kind of challenge for the players. I firmly believe that man is a product of his circumstances, and if we play our cricket with SG Test balls day in and day out, we will become players suited for that particular ball. If we are exposed to Kookaburra balls from an early stage, our fast bowlers will learn to hit the deck hard, spinners will learn to put more work on the ball, batsmen will learn to bat cautiously when the ball is new, and most importantly our curators will learn to make the tracks hard and bouncy because there won't be a way out.