Four years after Cricket Australia announced that it would trial the seam-friendly Dukes ball, the experiment has been shelved.
While the trial went a long way towards disproving the theory that the ball would not suit Australian conditions, holding up so well that the cricketing powers that be have scrapped the use of the English-made ball for fear that it would inhibit the development of young spinners.
Australia’s wealth of seam-bowling talent is on display every time their national team trots out with plenty of quality waiting in the wings in the Sheffield Shield. Still, there are concerns over the next generation of spinners.
For four seasons the handmade Dukes ball was used in the latter stages of the Sheffield Shield with the traditional Kookaburra supplied for first-class cricket that takes place before Australia’s seasonal hit and giggle festival, the Big Bash League.
The introduction of the Dukes ball coincided with a trend towards using spin bowlers less in first-class cricket, a grave concern for Australia, whose Test team have floundered in their recent visits to Asia while picking a backup spinner to Nathan Lyon has proven a tough task.
Cricket Australia stepped in to call an end to the Dukes experiment, noting a 15 per cent reduction in the number of overs bowled by spinners when using the ball.
When the ball was in use in last season’s Shield, spinners took a meagre ten per cent of all wickets in the tournament.
Cricket Australia’s head of cricket operations Peter Roach confirmed that the impact on spin was part of why the experiment was ditched while also confirming that the Dukes ball performs better in the hands of seamers and swing bowlers, even in drier conditions.
“Nathan Lyon is not 21 years old and who’s going to be next? That’s the challenge we’ve got, among others,” Roach told cricket.com.au.
“We’ve certainly seen evidence of a strong benefit for faster bowlers with the Dukes ball and people who can swing it. There have been some examples of states not selecting spinners for games in February and March, which is when we’d usually expect spin to be playing a greater part.
“Historically as the weather gets better and the pitches get drier, the spinners should be bowling more and more as the season goes on. But we weren’t seeing that. If they’re not bowling, they’re not going to get wickets.
“That rammed it home that that’s not what we want to be seeing.”
Roach also noted that the reduction in overs bowled by spinners posed a problem for their batsmen, who have struggled against the turning ball on all recent visits to the subcontinent.
Cricket Australia said they could not conclude that the Dukes ball gave the spinners less, only that when used in domestic cricket it seemed to provide the quicks enough of an edge that spinners become sidelined.
“That’s not exclusively a Dukes ball problem – there were some spinners who think bowling with the Dukes ball is more effective for them. But we think this will provide better opportunities for spinners at a time of year when they should be suited (to the conditions).
“That’s not just for the spin bowlers, but also for our batters to play (more spin) which is a big challenge when we go to the subcontinent especially.”
Roach also dismissed the notion that Australia retained the Ashes in England in 2019 as a result of the Dukes experiment.
Kookaburra balls are used by most Test-playing nations when staging Test matches with England, the West Indies and India the outliers. While the Dukes balls have been used in competitions outside of their home country including the Caribbean, India’s ball of choice, the SG, is only used in the Ranji Trophy and Tests hosted by the BCCI.
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