Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
India captain Virat Kohli has criticised the quality of the SG ball used for Tests in India, saying that it gets scuffed up too early and brings down players' performance significantly as a result. He vouched for the Dukes ball to be used uniformly in Test matches around the world.
The SG ball has been used for Test cricket in India, but it has come under scrutiny lately. Offspinner R Ashwin said he was "pretty disappointed" with it after the Rajkot Test against West Indies, and now Kohli is also suggesting its quality has declined.
"To have a ball scuffed up in five overs is not something that we have seen before," Kohli said. "The quality of the ball used to be quite high before and I don't understand the reason why it's gone down. A Dukes ball is still good quality, Kookaburra is still good quality - whatever limitations a Kookaburra might have, the quality is never compromised.
"The Dukes, I think, is the most suited ball for Test match cricket and if there's a situation, I would vouch for that to be used all over the world because of the consistency of the ball and how the bowlers are in the game at any stage because the seam is so hard and upright.
"And [for] the spinners as well, if the ball is hard you can get that extra pace, but if the ball goes so soft in 10-12 overs, then your effort comes down by 20%. So I think the quality of the ball has to be maintained, there's no doubt about that. Otherwise, you have too many dead sessions in a Test match, which you don't want to see. You want to see exciting cricket and guys working hard for runs, being in the battle all day. I totally agree with Ash [Ashwin]."
At present, it is only England that regularly uses the Dukes ball for Test cricket, with West Indies occasionally trying it out. Australia, South Africa, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka generally play with the Kookaburra, which at the moment, is Ashwin's favourite. "Right now I would say the Kookaburra red ball is a lot better than most of them. Dukes is also right up there," Ashwin said while speaking to Sanjay Manjrekar on Star Sports after the Rajkot Test. "I'm pretty disappointed with the way the SG ball is at this point of time. When I started playing first-class cricket, the SG ball used to be top-notch, and you could bowl with it even after the 70th or the 80th over. The seam used to be standing up strong and straight, but it's not the same anymore."
Shifting focus to the second Test against West Indies, starting on Friday, Kohli was thrilled with the way the younger players in the team were performing. India have opted for the same XII as the Rajkot Test, meaning 18-year-old Prithvi Shaw has once again beaten Mayank Agarwal to a place in the XI.
"This guy [Shaw] is supremely talented and he has got great ability as everyone saw," Kohli said. "We definitely think he has it in him to play at the highest level and he can repeat what he did in the first game. He is a very keen learner and a sharp guy. He understands situations well. We shouldn't compare to him to anyone yet. We shouldn't put him in a space where he feels the pressure of any kind. He should be left in a space where he enjoys his cricket and slowly grows into a player we all believe he can."
That the team's rookies appear better equipped to take on the strain of playing international cricket may be because of the level of cricket they get to play while coming through the ranks. Shaw, for example, has been a prominent member of the A team ever since he led India to victory in the 2018 Under-19 World Cup and opened regularly for Delhi Daredevils in this year's IPL.
Don't compare Prithvi Shaw with anyone, give him space to grow - Kohli
"Definitely [it] could be one of the reasons because they're already exposed to the environment that an international game would replicate," Kohli said. "But there's always the pressure of playing for the country. When you get that cap in the morning of the game, there are always butterflies in the stomach. Everyone feels that pressure but I'm sure it's not as intense as [it was] 10-15 years back when you didn't have any exposure in this kind of cricket and suddenly you were put out there in a Test match making your debut for India - the highest or toughest thing there could be."
Very little can beat experience though and Kohli relied on it to score his 24th Test century in Rajkot, where 99 of his 139 came through singles, twos and threes.
"You have to realise that by the time the middle order walked in at that game, the ball was soft. The pitch was not as quick, the harder ball comes onto the bat, so you have more boundary opportunities. I think that [scoring runs without taking many risks] has probably come with the experience of playing so many games. You can run your way to a hundred as well. There's no harm in that and I think with that mindset you understand your game, that you can bat all day, you can bat for two days and just score in singles and doubles, you don't necessarily need to hit a boundary. And if you are convinced about that in your own head, then the bowler gets to know as well and then the battle of patience starts.
"So I think you have to be convinced first that you can play all day with singles and doubles, and not necessarily wanting to hit big shots, but given an opportunity, obviously, you'll cash in on the loose balls. I think that's probably the balance in Test match batting that I've experienced and something that you have to keep switching according to the conditions that you're playing in."