Ashes 2019: Indifferent Dukes balls a bigger concern for England

Ajit Vijaykumar 18:36 06/08/2019
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Did you know – England ordered special Dukes balls for the 2019 Ashes in order to give its veteran seam attack the best possible chance against Australia’s experienced batting line-up?

A new batch of Dukes with a bigger seam was provided to help James Anderson and Stuart Broad the necessary ammunition to test Australian techniques, even if it exposed their own batsmen to the visitors’ potent attack.

It is a strategy employed brilliantly by England over the past few years, especially the India series last year. Then, the Dukes swung and seamed even after 60 overs with a change of ball barely a necessity. The result was that out of 19 innings, 400 was breached just once and 300 seven times. It was the best battle between bat and ball seen in a long time. Here, Australia scored nearly 300 and 500 in the first two innings.

According to The Telegraph, not enough balls of the 2018 vintage were made to last the Ashes in 2019. Hence, a new batch was prepared and looking at how the opening Test in Birmingham unfolded, they are not what England want.

While the focus was on Steve Smith’s remarkable pair of 140s and the injury to Anderson during the opening Test, the state of the balls escaped greater scrutiny.

What happened, especially in the second innings, was that despite a first-innings lead of 90, Broad, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes couldn’t get wickets in a bunch. Smith, Mathew Wade and even pacer James Pattinson worked the ball around for the best part of Day Four as the Aussies batted at 4.3 runs per over in the second innings, something that would not have happened with the 2018 batch of Dukes.

While England have a lot of thinking to do, the bottomline is that if the pitches continue to remain good – without being too spicy – and the Dukes stay the way they are, Australia will be at home in England.

Australia’s bowlers play on tough pitches back home where the Kookaburra hardly does anything after the first 15 overs. It’s all backbreaking work thereafter. They will relish conditions like the one in Edgbaston, especially with Anderson now a doubt for not only the next match but also the series.

Let’s go back to the pivotal fourth Ashes Test in 2015 with England leading 2-1. Everything rode on the opening session of that Nottingham Test. England won the toss and bowled first on a green carpet. Stuart Broad took 8-15 and… you know what happened.

Just like England have a very specific formula in ODI cricket – pile on the runs on good batting pitches – they have a similar strategy in home Tests; have conditions where even if their own batsmen struggle, the opposition will be blown away for fewer runs.

However, the first Test has not followed that template. And the state of the Dukes is a major impediment. Maybe it was a bad bunch of balls. Hopefully, the Lord’s Test will see a batch similar to the 2018 ones. But if that isn’t the case, the red cherry will end up giving the hosts the blues.

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