Over more than 140 years, many Ashes series have been decided by fine margins. This one might come down to a millimetre – about the width of the plastic lining that now sits beneath the leather of the Kookaburra cricket ball.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald can reveal that the Ashes ball for 2021-22 is a vastly different proposition to the one used four years ago, likely to keep moving through the air and off the seam in a much more sustained manner.
This summer’s Ashes ball will be nothing like the version used in 2017-18 and held here by Jimmy Anderson and Joe Root.Credit:Getty Images
Partly, this is due to a double coating of lacquer that helps the whole ball retain its hardness for longer. But the major difference is the plastic lining under the leather, added by the manufacturer after a request from Cricket Australia to find ways of getting it to swing and seam for longer periods.
The lining, which has a ridge under the seam of the ball, should ensure that seam, known to many bowlers as the “rudder” for swing and movement off the pitch, won’t lose its fibre as easily – – closer in performance to the Dukes ball used in England.
It has taken the Kookaburra a world away from the type of projectile hurled down, without much success, by England’s bowlers in the highly attritional 2017-18 Ashes. Combined with a damp La Nina summer, the adjustments made to the Australian Test match ball may well contribute to a closer series than many expect.
Certainly, it had an impact last summer, when India emerged victorious in a fascinating, twisting series that began with Australia obliterating the visitors inside three days in Adelaide. The likes of Mohammed Siraj were consistently able to extract life out of the pitch and the ball, much to the discomfort of Australia’s top order.
The England bowling attack, featuring James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson and Chris Woakes, has always been wary of the Kookaburra ball, even after the older pair helped win an Ashes series with it in 2010-11. But on the evidence of England’s preparation, the new iteration with the raised seam will prove more helpful.
“The lacquer feels a bit more like the Duke lacquer, and there’s a lot of positives to take from that,” Robinson said this week. “The ball has felt like it’s swung a bit more this time round. That’s obviously a bonus for us. If the balls stay like that, we feel like we can get early wickets and really get on top.”
That feedback is exactly what Kookaburra were seeking when they fielded a request from CA – specifically its cricket operations manager Peter Roach – for a ball that would offer a more equitable balance between bat and ball for longer passages of play.
“The updated ball has been developed by Kookaburra’s research and development team in response to off-season feedback from players, coaches and officials,” CA and Kookaburra stated in November 2019, before the ball was trialled in domestic ranks and then brought into Test cricket last summer.
“General feedback across Australian Cricket on the existing Kookaburra ball was positive for its ability to provide reasonable balance across all facets of the game. However, there was also a desire for the ball and its seam to stay harder for longer, and in turn produce more swing for longer periods, creating a more entertaining spectacle in a variety of conditions.
“The ball will not look or feel any different to existing Kookaburra balls, and has the same weight, shape and seam as the iconic Kookaburra Turf ball. The difference lies in an updated lining of the leather, which is designed to increase the resilience of the seam, having it stay harder for longer. The new lining has been worked on by Kookaburra for more than three years.”
England’s captain Joe Root, while noting the difference in the ball, wanted to make sure that his men recognised the passages of play in which they had to lift, as opposed to thinking the reinforced seam would do it for them.
“More than anything you’ve still got to manage the conditions in front of you,” he said. “The most important thing is to understand the different passages of play that you might be faced with, practice as best as you can leading into the game and series, and make sure you feel as ready as you can for whatever’s thrown at you.
“I’ve been here previously, and from my own experiences, I probably put too much pressure on myself to go out here and have that bumper, massive series that everyone dreams of as a touring player in these conditions. So, it’ll be just about trying to go about things as I have in the last year, and not over-focus on minor details.”
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