In all of sporting history probably no other piece of equipment has garnered more controversy and debate than the cricket ball. Its quite common to hear expert commentators mentioning how monstrous bats have become during live broadcasts. However, the piece of equipment that has evolved the most both visibly and behaviorally has to be the ball itself.
The British Standard BS 5993 prescribes the construction and dimension of the cricket ball. As per the said rule all international match balls can weigh 156 – 163 grams and can be of a circumference of 224 to 229 mm. While all international match balls have almost an identical structure consisting of a cork layered with tightly wound strings encompassed in a leather cover with a raised sewn seam has remained largely identical, the aesthetics and nature of the ball has evolved greatly over the years. In this article lets take a quick look at how the cricket balls have changed over time.
The Classic Red Ball
Ever since the inception of international cricket more than a century ago international matches have been played with the red ball. Till 1977 the red ball was the only ball used in any format of cricket be it tests or one day internationals. Typically, the red ball tends to swing through the air and seam off the pitch during the early parts of the innings and in older condition offers reverse swing and also gets noticeably more spin off the pitch.
The Revolutionary White Ball
1977 marked the debut of the white ball in the Packer Series. The Australian media magnet Kerry Packer in order to draw more crowds to his rebellious World Series Cricket which featured some of the legends of the game decided to introduce matches played under flood lights and with coloured clothing and white balls. The white colour was chosen to enhance visibility of the ball against the back drop of coloured clothing. This revolutionary thinking changed cricket forever. Today, one day internationals are unimaginable without the coloured clothing and the white ball. Essentially the construction of the white ball is identical to the red ball. However, behaviorally the white ball is quite different from the red ball. It tends to swing considerably more than the traditional red ball during the first half of an innings and also deteriorates much quicker and becomes so dirty that the batsman’s visibility is hampered. The deterioration of the ball is so much that it has induced multiple rule changes. While for some time the rule was to change the ball after the 34th over with a ‘reconditioned ball’ which is just a fancy way of calling a ball that was neither too dirty nor new. Currently, all ODIs are played with two new balls being used for alternate overs.
The Innovative Pink Ball
With the advent of T20 cricket the most classic version of the game, Tests, started to lose popularity. While the hurricane version of the game keeps on attracting full houses to matches, the crowds have been thinning at the longest version of the game. In order to counter this crisis and to keep the charm of test cricket alive the latest innovation has been to change the cricket ball one more time. Cricket authorities all over the world realised that one way to bring back the spectators to the stands is by having day-night test matches. One big challenge of day-night test matches is ensuring the visibility of the ball under flood lights. The red ball scores extremely low on visibility under flood lights and the white ball has the dual problem of deteriorating too fast to last 80 overs and low visibility against white clothing. The solution was to develop the pink ball with black seam. The construction of the pink ball differs slightly from the red and white balls. While the core ingredients of cork layered with strings covered in leather remains the same, the pink ball unlike the red and white versions doesn’t get dipped in grease. Generally, red and white cricket balls are dipped in grease to prevent water seepage into the leather. However, this can’t be done on the pink ball because grease will dull the colour of the ball making it difficult to see during a match. Instead, the pink ball is sprayed with a thick coat of fluorescent pink pigment which enables it to retain colour for longer periods. Characteristically, the pink ball is more akin to the white ball than the red. Even though it doesn’t deteriorate as fast as its white cousin it definitely tends to swing and seam more during the early parts of an innings especially during the dusk time when there is still some day light and the flood lights are also starting to come on. The 2015 Adelaide Test between Australia and New Zealand marked the debut of the pink ball in the international arena. Though the pink ball potentially offers solutions to a lot of cricket’s present day problems, the cricketing world has been slow to adopt the pink ball. Since its debut in 2015 so far only 11 tests have been played with the pink ball.
The cricket ball has never been afraid to embrace change. Today, in the wake of the corona virus pandemic players and connoisseurs of the game world over are worried that without being able to polish the ball with sweat or saliva during matches the game will become dull and one-sided in favour of the batsman. If history is anything to go by we can positively hope that aided with modern technology the ball will once again evolve to keep the game as magical as ever.