Cricket: Time to stop changing balls

Henry Blofeld on the need to find a solution to a recurring problem
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Too much of this summer has been spent arguing about cricket balls. Pakistan want to play with Reader balls while England want to play with Dukes, and before each Test match the captains toss to decide which one will be used. So far, Pakistan have won this particular battle and Readers have been used for the first two Tests.

Judging from the time that the umpires have spent inspecting them, they have frequently lost shape. Then comes the business of finding a substitute ball in a suitable condition. In addition to this, the umpires also look at the ball at the end of every over to check its condition, and, in the recent High Court case between Ian Botham, Allan Lamb and Imran Khan, ball tampering was constantly on the agenda.

Surely the time has come for the home authority, the Test and County Cricket Board, to make up their minds once and for all which make of ball shall be used, and that would be the end of the matter. One would strongly suggest from the frequency with which the Reader ball has apparently lost shape that the Duke should be chosen.

The Pakistanis say that the Reader ball is softer and roughs up more easily, which enables their bowlers to use reverse swing, at which they are so adept, to greater effect. During England's first innings at Headingley the ball was changed on two occasions; the first after 45 overs and the second after only 6.2 overs.

On each occasion the ball was shown several times to the umpires before they decided finally that it should be changed. So often these days when a ball which has not swung has been changed the replacement moves all over the place, although this did not happen at Headingley. It did happen, though, when the ball was changed during Pakistan's first innings in the Lord's Test.

If the bowlers cannot make the original ball swing, it then becomes an option to complain about its shape or condition and hope that the umpires will agree to a replacement which will swing. It is difficult entirely to convince oneself that there is not sometimes an element of gamesmanship in all this.

It usually happens that the umpires refuse to change the ball at first, but when the bowler complains two or even three times an over it interrupts the flow of play, slows up the over rate and is an irritant. In the end, the umpires agree to the request partly, perhaps, in order that everyone can get on with the game.

Clearly, it is possible for the unscrupulous to use this tactic as a deliberate ploy, and it is one which is difficult, for the above reasons, for the umpires to resist. But what at least can and should be done is to ensure that the ball which is least likely to go out of shape is used all the time.