India v South Africa, 2nd Test, Bangalore, 1st day November 14, 2015

Ashwin unhappy with SG ball's performance

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'Balls are going out of shape' - Ashwin

Spectators at Test matches in India have seen more of the fourth umpire than most crowds around the world. In recent times, this match official has had to sprint onto the ground frequently, carrying a box of cricket balls.

On the first day of the Bangalore Test, CK Nandan brought this box onto the field three times: twice during South Africa's innings, which lasted 59 overs, and once during India's 22-over response, when the umpires decided the match ball had gone sufficiently out of shape to call for a replacement.

Over the last two or three years, this has been a common occurrence in Test and first-class cricket in India. The SG Test ball has not been holding up as well as it used to.

Traditionally, spinners love the SG. It is reputed to boast a prouder seam than the Kookaburra - which is used in the rest of the cricket world apart from England and more recently West Indies - and stay harder for longer. It was a notable moment, therefore, when R Ashwin admitted that the quality of the SG ball in recent times has left him preferring the Kookaburra. Apart from going out of shape, he also felt the seam wasn't as prominent as before, giving him less of a chance to swerve his seam-up arm ball through the air.

"I don't want to pick on a brand and get into trouble, but I think the same ball that I bowled with, in first-class cricket, five-six years ago, it's not the same," he said. "There's definitely a lot of balls that are going out of shape. The arm ball… especially for a spinner, when you're trying to bowl an arm ball, the seam is not sitting high at all. So at this point of time, I seem to be enjoying the Kookaburra a lot more."

In recent years, the BCCI has used the Kookaburra in the Duleep Trophy, to help domestic cricketers acclimatise to the ball and prepare for future challenges overseas rather than because of issues with the SG's longevity. A plan was mooted as far back as 2006 to use the Kookaburra rather than or in alternation with the SG in home Tests, but it did not come to fruition due to various issues including the significantly greater cost of the Kookaburra. The growing incidence of the SG going out of shape, however, might bring the topic back onto the discussion table.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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