Modern technology favoured over artisanship March 9, 2006

Sanspareils Greenlands face end of the road

Cricinfo staff

Sanspareils Greenlands, the authorised supplier of cricket balls for Tests and first-class cricket in India, is under serious threat from Kookaburra who already supply 85% of all cricket balls used in Tests around the world.

The BCCI already use Kookaburra's white ball for one-dayers and after criticism of the performances of their product, SG's monopoly could be coming to an end.

"We are looking for alternate balls as we can't depend on just one," Niranjan Shah, honorary secretary of the BCCI, told the Financial Times. "Of course India must develop its own Test cricket balls but there are quality issues. In the first England-India Test match, which has just finished, all went well with the ball but we will be happy to work with Kookaburra if it can bring its prices down."

Although clearly concerned with the quality and performance, money remains the key issue; the BCCI currently pay Rs550 ($12, €10, £7) for each SG ball, each of which is handmade.

The use of different manufacturers' balls has long been a contentious issue - England, for example, still use the Duke brand renowned for its raised seam, similar to SG's balls - however, Kookaburra is on route to setting a global standard: of the 10 Test-playing nations, eight now use Kookaburra for Test matches.

Although the two companies produce the same product, their business models are distinctly contrasting: SG's difficulties in cornering the market stem from a struggle to obtain high-quality leather, in a country where the cow is a sacred animal. Kookaburra, on the other hand, rely on machines, technology and mass production.

Rob Elliott, managing director of Kookaburra, believes that the consistency of ball selection is a vital aspect to the game. "The cricket public doesn't want to see batsmen suddenly hitting balls 80 metres instead of 60 metres or medium-pace bowlers bouncing the ball over their heads [as fast bowlers do]," he explained. "They want players to perform under conditions they're presented with in terms of weather and pitch."

Puneet Anand, SG's chairman, is passionate that their handmade balls are part of the game's tradition. "The balls having a queer characteristic adds to the charm and beauty of the game," he said. "Our philosophy of cricket is to keep cricket the way it was, 100 per cent natural and handmade. Once you bring the science in, there's no skill left."

India and England are currently in battle at Chandigarh; Anand and Elliott are two people who will have a closer eye on the game than most.