Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo
India captain Virat Kohli has joined R Ashwin in being critical about the "quality" of the SG Test ball used in the first Test of the England series. A day after Ashwin called the ball "bizarre", Kohli agreed with the sentiment, saying India were not "pleased" with the ball being badly scuffed up well before the second new ball was due, especially in England's first innings.
The seam coming apart after the threads on the hand-stitched SG Test ball started loosening even before the ball was 50 overs old became both a sight as well as an early talking point in the first Test, played on a predominantly flat and slow surface in Chennai.
After Kohli lost the toss, the five-man Indian bowling attack was made to toil hard for nearly 191 overs across the first two-and-a-bit days to bowl England out for 578 in their first innings. Yet, despite the visible deterioration the umpires did not change the ball even once in England's first innings during which India took two further new balls. The first new ball was taken after 81 overs and the second in the 186th over.
However, both Kohli and Ashwin remained sceptical. "The quality of the ball, honestly as well, wasn't something that we were very pleased to see," Kohli said on Tuesday during the post-match media briefing. "Because that's been an issue in the past as well - just for the ball's seam to be completely destroyed in 60 overs is not something that you experience as a Test side and something that any Test side could be prepared for. But that was the reality of the first two days, but having said that, (the ball is) not an excuse - England played better cricket than us and deserved to win."
On Monday, after taking six wickets in England's second innings, Ashwin said that he had never seen the SG ball get worn out so fast. Just like Kohli, Ashwin, too, felt the pitch might have played a role. "This game, the ball was pretty bizarre for us, because I've never seen an SG ball tear through the seam like that before. It could well be a combination of how hard the pitch was the first two days. Even in the second innings after the 35th-40th over, the seam started to peel off. It was quite...it was bizarre. I haven't seen an SG ball like that in the last so many years. But yeah, maybe it could be due to the pitch and the hardness of it through the centre which is making the ball get scuffed up."
It is not the first time the senior Indian pair has pulled up the SG Test ball's leather softening very early. During the home Test series against West Indies in 2018, Kohli said he would prefer the Dukes ball over the SG only because the former was more consistent and didn't get scuffed up as early as "from the fifth over."
Kohli's remarks came on the back of Ashwin saying he was "disappointed" by the SG Test ball which when he had started playing first-class cricket was "top-notch" and the seam would "be standing up strong and straight" even after the 70th over, which was no more the case.
Paras Anand, the marketing director at SG, pointed out that the Chepauk pitch was mostly responsible for the quick "wear and tear" the ball had endured over the first couple of days. "It is mostly to do with the surface," Anand told ESPNcricinfo.
Anand said the hard nature of the pitch automatically meant the ball would soften quicker. Ishant Sharma, India's strike bowler, had also pointed out how difficult it was to bowl on the first two days. "First two days, actually I was feeling like were playing on a road to be very honest," Ishant told the host broadcaster after the fourth day's play.
Anand said the ball had been "still in the game" and remained hard throughout the five days. "At our end we have ensured the quality and performance of the SG Test ball is top notch. The first new ball was changed after 81 overs and the second new ball lasted 104 overs. I did not see the balls being changed. That is a good sign, which means the ball was holding shape.
"Because the wicket was really hard, which everybody is accepting, it is very difficult for the leather, a natural substance and not the hardest thing, to naturally wear and tear. So the expectation that a 40-, 50- or a 60-overs old ball to behave like a 10-over old ball is not going to happen."
Incidentally, the ball did remain hard and fast bowlers got the ball to reverse in all four innings in the match. In fact, reverse swing was the basis of James Anderson's match-turning spell on Tuesday morning. Before the start of play on the final day, Anderson told the host broadcaster that reverse swing would be a significant factor. "The wicket is so abrasive that our second new ball in India's first innings reversed after about four overs," Anderson said.
According to Anand, the set of SG Test red balls being used in the England Test series is from the same lot used in the India's last two home series - against South Africa and Bangladesh in 2019. The balls, Anand said, were worked on after receiving feedback from the Indian team in 2018.
"The feedback from the Indian team was that they basically wanted more consistency and that has been delivered. They also wanted the seam prominent. This is the same set of balls which we have been using for the last two years. The feedback from first-class cricketers has been very positive: they are saying the shape retention and seam are a lot better now."
Anand said that SG was "open to feedback" and in case the Indian team suggested any further changes, they would work on that.