Sport

Cricket Australia swings to Dukes ball

English-made Dukes cricket balls will be used in the second half of Sheffield Shield seasons from next year, Cricket Australia will announce on Wednesday.

The initiative is meant to help Australian players prepare more thoroughly for future overseas tours, especially Ashes tours. Kookaburra balls still will be used in the first half of each season, in the lead-in to home Test series. But Kookaburra will lose its long-standing monopoly in Australia.

In the spotlight: The Dukes cricket ball will be used in some Sheffield Shield matches next summer.
In the spotlight: The Dukes cricket ball will be used in some Sheffield Shield matches next summer. 

Rumblings urging the introduction of the Dukes ball to Australia were first heard more than four years ago. They grew to a dull roar after last year's Ashes series in England, when the Australians comprehensively failed to tame the English ball, which is darker and harder than Kookaburra, and swings more and for longer. Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting was joined by superstars Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath in calling for CA to adopt the Dukes ball.

Captain Michael Clarke, who retired at the end of that series, added his voice obliquely, saying the Sheffield Shield prepared players well for Australian conditions, but not for away series. Australia have lost their past four Ashes tours in England, and each time, lack of mastery of the Dukes ball has been a factor.

CA has been trialling Dukes balls in the Futures League and in the under-19 and under-17 championships since 2012. The English maker has been progressively modifying the ball for Australian conditions.

As the cricket program has evolved in Australia to accommodate the rise and rise of the Big Bash League, the Sheffield Shield season has been been virtually split into two terms, one finishing in early December and other beginning in February. Dukes balls will be used in rounds six to 10 and the final. One will be a day-night round, with a pink ball. It is possible also that a white Dukes ball will be used in the Matador Cup domestic one-day tournament at the start of each season.

Ostensibly, CA's move is a case of "if you can't beat them, join them". It has implications beyond Test and first-class cricket. As a rule, elite club competitions prefer to use the same ball as in interstate competitions, for consistency's sake. Dukes managing director Dilip Jajodia has made it clear that he intends to take the opportunity to open up the cricket ball market in Australia, pitching to clubs and schools as well as the professional level.

Dukes' arrival is poorly timed for Kookaburra, the century-old Australian icon. It came under criticism during the Australian summer when its balls had to be replaced repeatedly in Test matches in Brisbane and Perth. In 2012, Kookaburra's Rob Elliot said: "If we are not supported by cricket in Australia then Kookaburra won't exist, basically."