January 31, 2011

Indian domestic cricket

Domestic cricket needs the Kookaburra

Aakash Chopra
The Kookaburra ball
The Kookaburra is being used in Duleep Trophy  © Getty Images
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It isn't just the level of competition being several notches up that separates Duleep Trophy games from regular domestic cricket. Of course, the pleasure of watching the pick of the bunch is enormous, but what truly sets this competition apart is the use of the magical Kookaburra ball.

Brought up manoeuvring the SG Test ball, Indian bowlers have struggled for long playing overseas with the Kookaburra. Even our seam bowlers have, to a certain extent, found it tough to hit the deck, which is essential to succeed with the ball of this particular brand, when all that they've learnt has been with the SG Test. It is precisely for this reason that the BCCI introduced this much debated ball in the coveted Duleep Trophy for the cream of Indian domestic cricket to get the hang of it, without the pressure of playing international cricket. The idea has been to not only get the bowlers to understand the character of the ball, experiment with it, but also alter their game in accordance.

While the thought has been both wise and far-sighted, its implementation has left a lot to be desired. Firstly, there is an obvious scarcity of these rather expensive balls and hence all one gets are only a couple of balls in the practice session, that too just a day before the match. And that's certainly not enough to get used to the ball. It goes without saying that only a couple of bowlers bowl with these balls and the rest continue with the SG Test balls.

But what is the big deal with these Kookaburra balls? Aren't they all of the same size, same weight and same shape? Yes, but once you use the Kookaburra; you'd know the difference immediately. The new Kookaburra ball has a more pronounced seam than its SG counterpart and for some reason swings a lot more in the air too. It goes without saying that the pronounced seam ensures more seam movement off the surface too. But the flip side is that the moment it gets old, the seam gets embedded in the surface and ceases to both swing and seam. Now, you must hit the deck hard to get purchase, for releasing the ball would only mean getting punished.

On the contrary, SG Test balls assist swing bowlers for the entire duration if the shine on one side is maintained. The seam doesn't fade away either, which helps the spinners to get purchase. Quite obviously, and unfortunately though, if you've always bowled with the SG Test ball, you'd automatically become a release bowler relying on swing, which most of our bowlers do.

Also, the Kookaburra plays to its full potential on surfaces best suited for it. Hence, the track should be prepared extremely hard with a lot of bounce. No wonder, Kookaburra flourishes on the hard surfaces of Australia and South Africa, while on home tracks of Karnail Singh and Kotla, both lacking the hardness, it spells doom. Also, not leaving too much grass on the track is vital, for it makes the new ball almost unplayable.

The question being - is playing with the Kookaburra, only once in a year, enough to fine-tune the muscle memory? Of course, one needs to play with this ball more often to really mould the game to suit its demands. It's unrealistic to expect a player to remember its nuances when you don't use it regularly. If you follow the scorecards of Duleep Trophy since this ball got introduced, you'd see the middle-order batsmen blooming while the openers scratching around, for handling the new Kookaburra is the toughest bit. Batting gets remarkably easier as the ball gets older. That may not particularly be the best assessment of a player's calibre.

Isn't it grossly unfair to expect a bowler to bowl with a different ball, handing it to him just before the match, sparing him no time to acclimatize. Isn't it same as telling the batsman to use a different bat, minutes before he goes in to bat? It's a general consensus among the players that if we need to use this ball, we must use it more often. Hosting every alternate round of Ranji Trophy with the Kookaburra ball won't be a bad option.

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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Posted by VijayTL on (June 8, 2011, 11:58 GMT)

I think it is embarrassing that India being such a massive cricket nation both on the field and off the field and yet people are still questioning the Indian players ability to play on green tops. Alongside playing with the Kookaburra ball the solution is simple: The BCCI should dictate to several grounds around the country to produce green tops. Then give these grounds compensation for the loss in revenues when some people do not turn up to watch in fear of a low scoring game. Secondly nominate several promising FAST bowlers and shower them will all the facilities they need to make it at the international level. INDIA WILL REMAIN NUMBER 1 FOREVER!

Posted by charles on (February 3, 2011, 14:51 GMT)

Am I missing something? I find the KooK keeps it's shine and hardness much much better & longer than the SG; so with good care can achieve the swing in later overs. SG care and maintaining shine is most difficult. As bowler and Cap, I opt for the Kook on any conditions.

Posted by P Subramani on (February 1, 2011, 4:57 GMT)

I am sure our manufacturers should be able to make this ball without any difficulty. The point, as per the author is that this ball is expensive. May be because it is imported. I have no doubt that with proper co-ordination between the BCCI and others this ball need not be only for the Duleep matches. What I am doubtful about is the bouncy wickets requirement like they have in Australia and South Africa

Posted by Rizwan on (January 31, 2011, 22:46 GMT)

Well Said Akash, I think every country should have a standard Kookabura balls and they should be standardized through out the cricketing nations. I also believe we should have green tops, i would still enjoy a game esp in WC where 220+ would be a competitve score, the last time i remember such instances were in the WC 99, which was for me a true classic world cup after WC 92

Posted by Cricter on (January 31, 2011, 20:31 GMT)

We play with Kookaburras (both red and white) regularly here in Canada. I still believe that SG cricket balls are better suited to the grounds and wickets of India. Once the Kookaburra becomes old, batting becomes so easy, as Akash pointed out, as there is no movement off the seam.

Posted by Madhusudan Rao on (January 31, 2011, 14:37 GMT)

Why does the ICC not standardize the ball everywhere? Why so many variations? Dont think this is true for other sports?

Posted by Venkatesh Chetlur on (January 31, 2011, 12:57 GMT)

While it is a good point that our bowlers basically go blind when they start off on tours with the Kookaburra ball, we should not lose out on our advantage with the SG ball either. The idea should be to ensure that we have our players prepare better before tours - with Kookaburra balls if so needed.

Posted by Arun on (January 31, 2011, 10:09 GMT)

Fair point Aakash .. but one would also have to say, if we start using the Kookaburra through the domestic season, then we're losing out on the home advantage - isn't it? We use SG Test cricket balls, which aid the spinners and the seamers in our conditions - and given we play a majority of our cricket at home, isn't if fair to expect that we should use a cricket ball which will give us the advantage - even if to a very slight degree?

Would it not be better off to have the 'A' team or the NCA use these Kookaburra cricket balls regularly - after all, isn't the NCA supposed to be the feeder for the national team?

Posted by Ahmed on (January 31, 2011, 9:51 GMT)

Hey Akash, nice excuse for your poor performance !

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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