Dukes balls will be used in the Sheffield Shield next summer © Getty Images
Using a Dukes ball in Australian domestic competition will not make much difference to the nation’s Ashes chances unless it is possible to also import English weather and pitches to the other side of the world.
That’s the view of South Australia’s coach Jamie Siddons. A similar sentiment was expressed by Victoria’s captain and sometime Australia gloveman Matthew Wade, who in his moment of victory was also dismissive of a proposal to only award the Sheffield Shield to the outright winner of the final.
Cricket Australia brainstorms have abounded over the past two days, with the revelation that Dukes balls will be used in rounds 6-10 of the Shield next season arriving at the same time that ESPNcricinfo reported discussions around ensuring the final was played in the right spirit by putting a premium on an outright result. Wade did not take long to poke holes in both ideas.
The Dukes ball to be used in Australia will be a harder-wearing version than England’s, in recognition of firmer Antipodean pitches. Siddons said pitch and weather conditions were as much of a factor as the ball itself.
“I can see the logic in it and from what our players say there isn’t much difference – we will get the Dukes out and try and win games of cricket,” Siddons said of balls that have been already used in Futures League matches this season. “For me it doesn’t relate to what will happen in England as it is different conditions. At least the bowlers will get a good look at Dukes ball which is a positive.”
Wade argued that the version used in the West Indies, also more durable, bore little resemblance to the English model. “I’ve played with the hard-wicket ones in the West Indies and they don’t do anything close to what the ones in the UK do,” Wade said, “because they are obviously made to take a little bit more abrasiveness off the wicket.
“So it’ll be interesting to see how it goes but I don’t think it will make a huge difference going to a Duke. I don’t know the ins and outs of the two different balls, what the differences are, but I don’t think it will be a huge difference.”
CA’s team performance manager Pat Howard explained the reasons for the idea. “In recent times Australian teams travelling to England haven’t adjusted well to local conditions and the swinging Dukes ball,” Howard said. “We have been on record saying that we will look at ways to address this deficiency and believe giving players greater experience with the Dukes ball is one way of doing just that.
“Some people might think changing a brand of cricket ball is a minor consideration, but as we have seen from past Ashes campaigns in England, it can be a significant factor. During the first half of the Sheffield Shield season we will continue using Kookaburra balls, as they are used for all international cricket here in Australia.
“Once our home Test matches are finished we will switch to Dukes balls for Sheffield Shield cricket as we begin focusing on winter tours, including the Ashes in 2019. We have had agreement from all state associations about this change which recognises Australian cricket’s combined determination to win an away Ashes series.”
The concept of a Shield only being awarded to the outright winner of the final has been discussed at CA management and board levels while also being run past numerous states and players. Wade said this season’s final was as good an argument as any against trying to micromanage the way it is played.
“I don’t like it. I don’t like that at all,” Wade said, shaking his head. “I understand if there is a reason or if there is a logical way to go to change the Shield final. I’m all for that. But at the moment there’s no clear-cut decisive way that we should go, so just leave it how it is. I know everyone has spoken about how you can’t win from second, they produce flat wickets. The team just bats and bats.
“Well this game of cricket is as good as any game of cricket you’re ever going to watch. It to-and-froed for three or four days and we weren’t home until we managed to get a few over the rope this afternoon. We’ve just proven that you can win from second and it was terrific game of cricket. People who came out to watch this game of cricket would be more than happy when they went home that they had seen a great game.”
The greater factor, Wade said, was the preparation of an equitable pitch. He paid tribute to the ground staff at Glenelg Oval for preparing just such a wicket for this match, where batsmen, pacemen and spin bowlers all had a reasonable chance of succeeding over five days.
“That was a great pitch, an unbelievable pitch,” he said. “I had no idea what it was going to do to be honest. The grass was thatchy and I thought that it would swing and seam a little bit, which it did. But I didn’t know if it would break up on the sides. At club grounds you think it might but if you can produce that cricket more than not in Shield cricket then I think you will see some great games.
“It gives you the opportunity to play spin, like we’ve been to Alice Springs a few times and played two spinners and it’s a good game of cricket. If we’re talking about experience for younger players as well, then there’s no better experience than playing fifth day on a wicket that is spinning against quality spinners. So I would love to see more pitches like that.”
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo