Duleep Trophy, 2009-10 February 7, 2010

Why the second new ball is key

What is it about the second new ball that makes it so pivotal

"Most centuries scored in this edition of the Duleep trophy have come from the middle-order batsmen which include as many as three double centuries in just four matches" © Cricinfo Ltd

The fast bowlers had made early inroads and the opposition seemed to be on the mat. The batting was in pieces when the middle and the lower middle-order geared up and pulled their team back into the match. Just when they seemed to be cruising, the bowling side came back with a couple of crucial breakthroughs, giving their team the leeway to perhaps steer the game. More often than not, such a spin-off comes up around the 80th over just when the fielding side decides to take the second new ball.

Subsequently, it is this new ball that decides the face of the scorecard for the team batting first, for the wickets taken by it is what seals the innings. What happens in successive innings’ can undoubtedly be presumed.

This is the story of a typical Duleep Trophy game.

Chances are that one may have failed to spot the striking parallels between most Duleep Trophy matches, barring the last innings of the recently concluded final where West Zone made history.

So what is it about the second new ball that makes it so pivotal? Well, it is the ball itself – the Kookaburra instead of the regular SG Test.

The new Kookaburra ball moves appreciably both in the air and off the surface and hence accounts for few early wickets. Perhaps a smart way to deal with this inevitable evil is to pitch the ball slightly fuller (to allow the ball to swing more) and make the batsman play maximum number of deliveries. Since the quality of bowlers at this level is pretty decent, they don’t take time to adjust to the new requirements. On the other hand, batsmen are required to tweak their feet movement substantially along with assessing the line of the ball. This adjustment is a tad difficult than the one expected from the bowlers. And thus the batsmen invariably succumb.

Now you would think that scoring tons in such a situation is quite a task, perhaps reason enough to credit the middle and lower middle-order batsmen for their rescue act. But hang on; let me give you an insight in to how things pan out in the middle. The moment this red Kookaburra loses its shine and seam (which gets embedded in the surface), the ball ceases to perform its tricks. This results in making the quicker bowlers ineffective and batting considerably easier. Just to make matters easier for the batsmen and worse for the bowling side, most of our spinners don’t know how to use the Kookaburra effectively. Finger spinners are not used to putting extra spin on the ball (because they can get away with putting less spin on the SG Test ball) and there aren’t too many wrist spinners around in any case. I am reminded of VVS Laxman’s assessment of a dearth of quality spinners in India which gets reiterated in India’s premier domestic tournament.

What spreads out on the pitch thereafter is predictable. While the batting side waits for the Kookaburra to lose its sheen, the bowling line-up hangs in to get hold of the new ball. A quick check tells me that most centuries scored in this edition of the Duleep trophy have come from the middle-order batsmen which include as many as three double centuries in just four matches. Only two openers scored centuries but on a fourth-day wicket which obviously doesn’t help the quick bowlers much.

So it may not be a bad idea to read the scorecards and performances keeping these dynamics in mind.

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

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