The only way to make cricket balls tamper-proof, if at all it is possible, is by toughening all facets of the ball, the surface of leather and the quarter seam, says the head of a leading ball brand.
Dilip Jajodia, the owner of Morrant Group Ltd, and managing director of its wholly owned subsidiary British Cricket Balls Ltd, which produces Dukes balls, says that with any other ball, it’s easier to stick a thumbnail into the quarter seam to open it up for turbulence.
“In our ball, the quarter seams are tight, and it’s not possible to open them,” he adds over the phone from the UK.
Jajodia’s Dukes competes directly with the Australian Kookaburra Sport Pty Ltd, whose balls were in use during the recent tampering episode. TV cameras spotted Australian cricketer Cameron Bancroft trying to scrape the surface of the ball during their third Test against South Africa in Cape Town in March.
Bancroft, captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were later punished by Cricket Australia with suspensions ranging from nine to 12 months, but the scandal brought back the issue of illegal alterations to the ball surface by fielding sides.
Dukes balls are used for international matches in England and the West Indies, while Kookaburra is used in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa—making the two companies intense rivals, for over a century. Dukes would most likely be used in India’s upcoming tour of England this summer.
The UK company’s balls are usually smaller, have a higher seam, more lacquer, and are known to swing more. (“James Anderson probably sleeps with the ball under his pillow,” jokes Jajodia. “He must have taken a huge number of wickets with these.”)
Jajodia says the advantage Dukes has is that it's entirely hand stitched. “The difference between us is that Kookaburra is machine stitched. When it's machine stitched the ball is not held together as tightly, and the shape is different. It tends to do nothing after 20 overs, and it doesn’t deviate.
“Therefore, the temptation to do something (illegal) becomes more relevant. With our balls, there is natural swing, performance and a fair contest between bat and ball.”
While the debate between Dukes and Kookaburra is legend, there are arguments on both sides. Australian great Shane Warne has consistently recommended the use of Dukes in his country. Dukes, which has been trying to crack the market Down Under for a long time, is being used in the second phase of the Australian domestic Sheffield Shield competition over the last two seasons as an experiment, with an eye on the next 2019 Ashes in England. It has won the approval of several domestic players.
“We don’t get people tampering with our balls,” claims the 74-year-old India-born Jajodia, who bought over the 250-year-old Dukes in 1987.
Dukes’ origins can be traced back to 1760 when they first start producing in the English county of Kent, according to their website. The first manufactured cricket balls are believed to have been made as a cottage industry by generations of the Duke family.
“The surface polish types are also different,” adds Jajodia, who runs the family business. “If someone asked me to make a ball that keeps its shine, I could do it. But the ball has to deteriorate for balance between bat and ball so that a team can start with a new ball (later in the innings). So one or the other team can come back into the game.
“I have been in this game for 45 years—our philosophy is the same regarding the shape of the ball and that it’s entirely hand-stitched. The surface (of the ball) has to be different for different conditions. In England, the ball has grease on it because of the damp weather, so it becomes water resistant. That will not work in the West Indies, so we produce a surface finish.
“If they ask me to produce balls for New Zealand, I will make it like England because of similar conditions. India is dry, and I would be looking for a hybrid between the ball made for Australia and the West Indies.” India uses SG balls at the moment for international matches, though the BCCI has tested Dukes as well.
Jajodia says it takes three-and-a-half man-hours to make a ball and each ball costs under £50 pounds, which is cheaper than Kookaburra balls of an equivalent variety.
Making hand-stitched balls is a dying art, which survives in a few places like India and Pakistan. Dukes sources its leather from the UK, but the balls are stitched in Pakistan and then go back to East London to be shaped and polished.
Ball tampering is the act of changing the condition of the match ball to interfere with its aerodynamics and generate swing for fast bowlers. Bowlers prefer if one side of the ball is kept shiny and the other rough, to help generate reverse swing. While it is legal to shine one side using sweat and spit, an illegal act occurs when a player rubs the surface of the ball with sandpaper (or any other object), scuffs the surface or seam of the ball with his fingernails, or rubs the ball on the ground.
“Look, tampering has been going on since the game’s been played. I think when the ball does nothing, and you are a swing bowler, you will be tempted to do something with it,” says Jajodia. “Our ball keeps its shape and hardness, the leather is good, and the workmanship is of quality. Even after 40-50 overs, when a batsman hits the ball, it will go for a boundary because it’s still hard. The ball has to be good for both batsman and bowler.”
Price, Jajodia claims, is why Dukes has struggled to attain widespread usage. “One of our philosophies is we have a world price policy. Everyone pays the same. The amount of business I could do if I were more flexible… The product is difficult to make and hard to have consistency. But my bespoke product for each country and condition might (in future) still have an attraction…”
India will spend over two months in England this summer, playing three T-20 internationals, three one-day internationals and five Test matches with a tour starting on 27 June. On their last tour in 2014, India lost the Test series 1-3.
“Historically, India has not been good in the pace department but if they did their homework well… and the ball is fair to both sides. It does move and moves late. That’s where skill comes in,” says Jajodia.
“(Ravichandran) Ashwin will do well here in the summer because he will get bounce,” he adds. On India’s last tour to England, Ashwin got three wickets from two Tests that he played.