Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s premier offspinner, had expressed his reservations about the SG ball which is used for Test matches in India, mentioning that the ball’s seam isn’t as “top notch” as it used to be earlier. Ashwin’s comments came after India’s record innings victory in the first Test against the Windies in Rajkot, where the 32-year-old picked up six wickets in the match, including a four-wicket haul in the first essay. The Tamil Nadu spinner had also given a thumbs up to the Dukes ball, joining the list of cricketers who have advocated for the use of the ball manufactured by the British Cricket Balls Ltd.
Supporting Ashwin’s call was India skipper Virat Kohli, who felt that the seam of the balls manufactured by SG do not last more than five overs and goes soft very soon. The cascading effect of that, according to Kohli, is that the pace bowlers lose their efficiency very early in their innings while the spinners also struggle to grip the ball properly. “I totally agree with him; to have a ball scuffed up in five overs is something that we haven’t seen before,” Kohli said on Thursday (October 11) ahead of the second Test in Hyderabad. The quality of the ball used to be quite high before and I don’t understand the reason why it’s gone down. A Dukes ball is still good quality, Kookaburra is still good quality – whatever limitations a Kookaburra might have, the quality is never compromised.
“The Dukes ball, I think, is the most suited ball according to me for Test-match cricket and if there’s a situation I would vouch for that to be used all over the world because of the consistency of the ball and how the bowlers are in the game at any stage, even the spinners, because the seam is so hard and upright. And the seamers as well, if the ball is hard you can get that extra pace but if the ball goes so soft in 10-12 overs, then your effort comes down by 20 per cent. I think the quality of the ball has to be maintained, there’s no doubt about that. Otherwise you have too many dead sessions in a Test match, which you don’t want to see. You want to see exciting cricket and guys working hard for runs, being in the battle all day. I totally agree with Ash.”
Meanwhile, Kohli was happy with the composition of his spin line-up in lieu of the Test series against Australia. The trio of Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav have been successful in spin-friendly Asian conditions, having picked up a combined 241 wickets in Asia since January 2016. Ashwin’s record outside Asia has also been good in the last two years, with his tally of 35 wickets in West Indies, South Africa and England coming at an average of 27.68 but heading to Australia, where the Kookaburra ball – one that isn’t favoured much by the spinners – will be used, the Indian spinners will have their work cut out. But Kohli feels they will be up for the challenge as long as they can put the revs on the ball, citing the example of Moeen Ali, and reckoned Ashwin has expanded his repertoire in the last few years which should hold India in good stead.
“Basically you look at guys who are putting revs on the ball, that’s something that I feel always works in overseas conditions. Guys who can get the ball to bite off the pitch are the ones to succeed – not just in Indian conditions but overseas as well,” Kohli said. “If you see someone like Moeen and the way he bowls, it’s the pace on the ball that puts you in doubt and a little bit of an area if provided, then that can create doubts in your head, because of the pace that they have on the ball. I think Ash did that beautifully in England, he bowled quicker than he used to, and something that he’s added to his game. Jaddu obviously is the bowler who always has done that. I think these two guys are equipped to do the job for us in any conditions and they have identified the areas that they needed to work on and they have worked on those areas. I feel with our bowling attack we don’t have any kind of issues as such to find the right balance. We feel, as management, we’re happy with how the guys are working towards the game.”
Another challenge for India to overcome when they tour Down Under is that they are likely to go in with a team filled with players who only debuted recently. Rishabh Pant, Prithvi Shaw and Hanuma Vihari, while having had impressive starts to their Test career, might take a while to get adjusted to the Australian conditions, with the series against Windies not really a benchmark for preparation for their overseas tour. Not getting carried away with Shaw’s ton on debut, Kohli urged that the youngsters should be given their space while also reflecting on how the younger lot in recent years have not felt as much pressure in the international arena.
“I don’t think he [Shaw] should be rushed into anything yet. Because you need to give a youngster a space to grow in his own abilities. This guy is supremely talented and he has got great ability as everyone saw. We definitely think he has it in him to play at the highest level and he can repeat what he did in the first game. He is a very keen learner and he is a sharp guy. He understands situations well. We are all very happy for him. We shouldn’t compare to him to anyone yet. We shouldn’t put him in a space where he feels pressure of any kind and he should be left in a space where he enjoys his cricket and slowly grow into a player we all believe in.
“They’re already exposed to the environment that the international game would replicate. But there’s always pressure of playing for the country. When you get that cap in the morning of the game, there’s always butterflies in the stomach and I’m sure everyone feels that pressure. But I’m sure it’s not as intense as 10-15 years back, when you didn’t have any exposure in this kind of cricket and suddenly you’re put out there in a Test match making your debut for India – the highest or toughest thing there could be. They have played in situations in the IPL where they play in front of so many people that they’re not nervous anymore of the big stage. Yes they might have that eagerness to perform or the pressure to perform, but I think they’re not overawed by the scenario and I think that’s always going to be an advantage because the guys coming in can start doing the job from game one which both these young guys have done. They’re supremely confident guys,” Kohli summed up.
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