A fresh batch of balls has been delivered to every first-class county before the County Championship fixtures this week after Dukes admitted there have been issues with some of those used so far this season. The Durham captain, Scott Borthwick, said the quality of those balls he has seen had been “shocking”.
Though some counties have reported no complaints with the batch of balls they received before the start of the season, others have had repeated problems and Borthwick’s complaints came after there were seven unscheduled ball changes during Durham’s victory against Glamorgan last week, including five on a single day.
Beyond going out of shape, the balls are said to have skewed games in the batters’ favour: in the entirety of the County Championship last season there were just 12 scores above 500, while this season there have already been 13 in Division One – including four last week alone – and another seven in Division Two.
“The balls have been shocking this year,” Borthwick said on Sunday. “This batch are just different. They seem to go soft pretty quickly and then when they get soft they swell a bit and go out of shape. It’s something to do with Dukes, they have obviously got this batch wrong. I know the seamers want them to go back to last year’s batch because I think the seams are actually smaller on them as well, so you get a little bit less sideways movement. I guess that’s why there’s so many big scores already this season.”
Dilip Jajodia, whose company British Cricket Balls Ltd produces the Dukes balls, told the Guardian he believed the problem had been addressed. “There’s been a quality issue, on the basis that balls are going out of shape,” he said. “It’s not a major issue. We’ve tightened up our process, we’re sending balls out all the time, and hopefully the feedback will be better.”
One experienced bowler told the Guardian the problem has been so widespread that entire boxes of balls were being rejected and returned.
Jajodia said: “We had no idea there was an issue until people started complaining. When the balls leave me I can tell you they all look perfect. When they’re played with, if there’s anything at all wrong with them it shows up.
“We do everything exactly the same: the same procedures, the same raw materials. Then if there’s a problem you have to react. Unfortunately we’ve had a batch where there seems to be a problem.”
Though some bowlers have identified a less prominent seam in this year’s balls they have been produced to precisely the same specifications as last year’s, even if some variation is inevitable. “Each stitcher is different,” Jajodia said. “Some pull stitches tighter than others. It’s like handwriting.
“Cricket balls are made out of natural raw materials by human beings. We’ve come through a very difficult covid period that affected the entire production line and the sorting of materials, and the whole thing’s been a nightmare. We’ve had issues with staffing, issues with raw materials, and we’re trying to please everybody in difficult circumstances.
“It might be there was a batch with an issue with the elasticity of the leather. One cow hide produces around 12-15 balls, you get about 40 hides in a drum, and all that takes time to work through the system. If there’s something inherently wrong with raw materials that started their journey nine months ago there’s not a lot I can do about it, and I can’t see it until they’re in use. A handmade, natural product can’t always be perfect. It amazes me how successful we are, actually.”