Decoding The Devil: Dukes Cricket Ball
The Dukes cricket ball used in England, in Virat Kohli’s own words, can bury a batsman’s ego pretty quickly.
The Dukes cricket ball has for long proved a batsman’s worst nightmare, especially when the dark red cherry is let loose in England’s misty climate. The willow-wielders of India and New Zealand will be put through the paces from 18 June as ICC’s playing conditions have stated that the final of the World Test Championship will be contested with a Dukes.
Batsmen hailing from the subcontinent and the Dukes ball share a relationship that of a loyal apprentice and a hardnosed ringmaster. Overseas players who’ve grown up on swinging and seaming pitches negate the lateral movement far more assuredly, but even their camps are not immune to an occasional collapse.
For instance, England suffered the indignity of being rolled out for 85 by Ireland at Lord’s in 2019. The enormity of the task of scoring runs there is precisely the reason why England is termed as a batsman’s ultimate test of character.
It’s common knowledge that the Dukes ball does a lot more than its counterparts Kookaburra and SG. But to fathom why it behaves in that menacing manner is downright rocket science.
Dukes, a Fast Bowler’s Friend
The Dukes variant, manufactured by British Cricket Balls Limited in the UK, tends to wobble in the air and jag off a length due to its pronounced hand-stitched seam. All the six rows of stitching run backwards and forwards across the joint of the two cork cups within, facilitating better shape and firmness retention. This unique threading pattern is directly proportional to durability, and thus, the Dukes maintains its mint condition for extended spells if looked after well by the fielding team.
The longevity of the Dukes stands in stark contrast with that of its peers. While the SG ball is subjected to intense wear and tear on Indian dust bowls, the Kookaburra is prone to contortion upon hitting the wide cracks that are a characteristic feature of tracks Down Under. This gradual depreciation leads to shredded seams, thus making the process of gripping the ball a tricky task.
On the flip side, the lush green hue of the outfields and the playing surface in England preserves the Dukes’ lacquer and as a result, the speed merchants are always in the thick of action.
Furthering their cause is the fact that the Dukes keeps the slop cordon interested throughout the day, with nicks carrying to a comfortable catching height. The SG pales in comparison as edges die down in front of the slips, piling up the pacer’s misery as eliciting errors from the batsmen is already an uphill task given the domestic decks are as flat as a road.
Indian Players Jump On The ‘Dukes’ Bandwagon
Indian skipper Virat Kohli threw his weight behind the Dukes ball to be used uniformly across the board after SG’s performance in the Chennai Test against England earlier this year left him unimpressed.
"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.’’ the captain advocated.
His pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah echoed similar sentiments: “I love bowling with Dukes. It seams it swings, so basically, when you have a little bit of help, it does help as it is taxing to be a fast bowler with grounds getting shorter and wickets getting flatter. So if the ball does something, it becomes even more competitive. So you feel you are in the game.’’
Drift Holds The Key For Spinners
If viewed from a spinner’s perspective, the cons of the Dukes outrank the pros. The likes of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Mitchell Santner will be able to extract plentiful drift and topspin in the summit clash thanks to the appreciably snug grip. But the art of spin, as the word itself suggests, is all about giving the ball a genuine rip to bamboozle batsmen. Turning the Dukes is a tough nut to crack, both because of the pristine nature of the ball and the strips’ aversion to spin.
The point that the pace battery does the bulk of the job in England couldn’t be drilled home by any other example than Adil Rashid. The leggie’s services were confined to fielding at fine leg in the second Test versus India back in 2018 as the tourists were skittled for 107 and 130, with James Anderson weaving his charm to prize out a nine-wicket-haul.
The Ageas Bowl is where India and New Zealand will face off in a bid to claim the ultimate glory in Test cricket. Rod Bransgrove, chairman and chief executive of Hampshire County, Southampton, asserted, “Our curator will be preparing the wicket but there may be some overseeing from the ICC. We will prepare the best playing surface we can for a five-day match”. Ensuring a sporting wicket that permits a healthy contest between the bat and ball will lay the very foundation of a five-day spectacle, taking into account the broadcast revenue tickbox.
In spite of the governing body’s supervision, the pitch for the grand finale is expected to stay true to the English reputation. Although the isolating batsmen have the blueprint delivered by Devon Conway and Rory Burns as to how the demons can be slain. It’s a first-blink challenge thrown at you by the bowler, and judgement outside the off-stump is your weapon. The Dukes is no doubt a difficult proposition to handle, but by no means insurmountable. And India and New Zealand will be eager to take the bull by the horns.
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