Friday, December 2, 2022

How a ball change changed the whole complexion of England’s run chase

The Indians were on their knees, pleading with the umpires to change the ball that had bled 106 runs in little over 20 overs. They had tried at least 4-5 times but every time the umpires put it through the ring, the ball would slip through. Until then, England openers Alex Lees and Zak Crawley were charging along like a runaway express, slamming the bowlers on the up and driving them to distraction.

“Indians are looking rattled,” Nasser Hussain would say on air at one point. Until then, even Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami couldn’t coax any movement from the ball. Finally, the ball failed the ring test after the fifth ball of the 20th over and things began to miraculously change. Three quick wickets fell to bring India back into the contest.

Not that it was all India’s way from then on as Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow soaked up the pressure with high-quality batting to get England ahead in the contest again. But if not for the ball change, India wouldn’t even have plausibly got into that position. Such was the dominance of the bat.

An over after the ball change, Bumrah brought himself back on and landed one a foot outside off stump on a length. Until then, such deliveries would just shoot on almost straight. And so Crawley, who had judiciously left most of the outside-off balls from Bumrah and Shami, shouldered arms to this one as well. Mistake. It changed path, jagged in to gate-crash Crawley’s party. Bumrah stood there, with a smile, his eyes following Crawley. “The magician has done it,” Sanjay Manjrekar would scream on air and it certainly was a magic delivery – but with a little bit of help from the replacement Dukes. The fact that nothing was happening before exaggerated the movement of this replacement ball and everyone was as stunned as Crawley.

The tea break intervened soon and upon resumption, Bumrah carried on from where he had left off. This time, off the first ball of the last session, a crafty straightener sucked Ollie Pope into a fatal edge. Under pressure, England batsmen’s brains began to scramble. Joe Root called Lees for a risky run, and the opener, whose daring batting had much to do with England’s position of strength, was run out. A replacement ball with a bit of devil in it, and the wizardry of Bumrah and Shami had transformed the run chase. Bairstow was dropped on 14 by Hanuma Vihari in the slips when Mohammed Siraj had the ball to straighten outside off, and England got back into the chase.

Not the first instance

The Dukes ball has been of concern this English season with county teams, England and New Zealand complaining about it at various stages.

Dilip Jajodia, the owner of the company that manufactures the Dukes ball, had told The Indian Express ahead of the Test that though they haven’t identified the definite cause for the balls losing shape as yet, he suspected it is due to problems in the tanning process.

“My guess is, there’s some technical problem in the process of tanning which goes back months. We actually still haven’t identified what the problem is. Because the process of tanning and coloring is very important and something goes wrong, if somebody adds a certain percentage of chemicals that’s not quite right, the dye,” Jajodia had told this newspaper.

Just ahead of the Test series against New Zealand, Stuart Broad was openly critical of the ball in his column. “They have not swung and because they are going soft very quickly, neither is there any bounce,” Broad wrote in his Mail on Sunday column. “Things have been so bad that we have had to change the ball two or three times every innings. It has felt like bowling with a rolled-up piece of plasticine and the balls are that soft you feel like you can squeeze them even before you have bowled a ball with them.”

The original ball that Indians had must have felt like a rolled-up plasticine; the replacement certainly didn’t. It took some high-skilled batting from Root and Bairstow to ensure England weren’t blown away at that stage, and they slowly shifted the pressure back on the Indians. With the ball reversing, the Indians attacked Bairstow with in-dippers – the weakness that they exposed last year – but he managed to hang on. Root was more composed, dealing with whatever Indians came up with.

Shardul Thakur and Siraj had proved ineffective with the original ball, and there was no spin for Ravindra Jadeja. England were taking complete control, until the ball change put the game back on an even keel, making it a contest between bat and ball.

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