The MCC World Cricket Committee has proposed the standardisation of the ball for the ICC World Test Championship commencing later this year.
The committee, chaired by Mike Gatting and also attended by outgoing ICC chief executive David Richardson, observed during its two-day meeting in Bangalore on March 8 and 9 that the World Test Championship, which starts with the Ashes after the World Cup, provides a "perfect opportunity" to introduce a standard ball in the interest of the game. The MCC is the custodian of the Laws of Cricket, but the proposal is subject to the approval of the ICC cricket committee that will meet in May.
"The World Test Championship begins after the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup. The MCC World Cricket committee felt that it would benefit the Championship for a standard ball to be used in these matches, except for those played as day/night matches. It would be for the ICC to choose which ball is most suitable, with the committee stressing that the balance between bat and ball is crucial," the MCC said in its release.
"I think if we have a standardised ball in the world game, whatever ball that is that everyone deems as the best, that does something, it seams, it swings, it keeps its shape for the longest period of time, whatever ball that is… Especially with the Test Championship coming up, if everyone plays with the same conditions, with the same ball, I think it's a more equal playing field so you really do get to know what is the best Test team in the world," legendary leg-spinner Shane Warne, a member of the MCC world cricket committee, said on a @HomeOfCricket video.
"… I think it's very timely that we do it now, especially with the Test Championship around the corner," former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara said. Bangladesh allrounder Shakib Al Hasan concurred, saying: "I think it will benefit immensely…"
Currently, the Dukes ball is used for Tests in England, Ireland and West Indies. The SG ball is used in India, while the Kookaburra is used in all other Test nations.
The Dukes, with its more prominent and hand-stitched seam, holds up for the better part of 80 overs, after which the second new ball is available. The Kookaburra balls are machine-stitched and usually lose their seam after 20-odd overs, all but cancelling out any movement in the air. The SG balls, too, have pronounced and hand-stitched seam. But they lose shine quickly, although in Indian conditions, it offers considerable reverse swing.
There's every chance that the standardisation of the cricket ball might face opposition from the manufacturers. Also, a cricket ball suited to a particular condition can be part of home advantage. Kookaburra spokesperson Shannon Gill rejected the notion that the red Kookaburra doesn't swing after a period.
"Our balls can and have been used in England before, and there was never any doubt about its ability to cater to swing and seam bowlers. There's no plan as such to change the nature of our ball to cater to English pitches. The concept of making balls specific to conditions would be contradictory to the concept of standardisation. The moment balls are made different for different conditions like some of the other brands is the moment when there is no standardisation. So this will depend on what cricket authorities decide," Gill told The Indian Express.
Gill supported the standardisation proposal, saying: "A standard ball brings in an element of uniformity in the game. Kookaburra currently make a standardised ball – the same ball is used for Tests across Australia, New Zealand , South Africa, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Pakistan (UAE) and Bangladesh. It's adaptable to a range of conditions and allows all elements of the game to shine (batting, pace bowling, spin bowling)."
The Dukes, however, has had the backing of a host of current cricketers, including Virat Kohli. "The Dukes ball, I think, is the most suited ball for Test cricket. 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, even the spinners, because the seam is so hard and upright," the India captain had said during the home Test series against West Indies last year. He also criticised the SG ball, suggesting that its quality had gone down of late.
The BCCI uses the SG balls for Tests in India and also in domestic cricket. A cricket board functionary, however, informed that there's no contractual obligation in this regard. "We have been using the SG ball and in its last meeting, our cricket committee decided to continue with it. In the future, if we feel that a rethinking is required, we will do that," he told this paper.
'Not promoting a brand'
MCC assistant secretary for cricket John Stephenson, who is also on the ICC cricket committee, has clarified that the MCC World Cricket Committee wasn't promoting a particular brand. "We are not promoting a particular type of ball but feel it would be a good idea to have one ball used for Test matches," he was quoted as saying by The Times. "The feeling was that there should be a standard ball used in all Tests in the forthcoming championship to give a level playing field and to try to keep a good balance between bat and ball," he added.
The world cricket committee's recommendation is obviously restricted to red-ball Tests only, as the pink Kookaburra has been the ball for day/night Tests. As for limited-overs internationals, the white Kookaburra 'standardisation' is already in place. The MCC committee has proposed that the red Dukes be trialled in Asian conditions.