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Ashes: Is the Kookaburra ball key to winning the urn?

First Ashes Test, Brisbane
Dates: 25-29 November Start time: 0000 GMT Coverage: Listen live to Test Match Special on BBC 5 live sports extra, Radio 4 LW and online (UK only). Watch live on Sky Sports 1, highlights on ITV 4

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Kasprowicz's Kookaburra ball tips

By Pranav Soneji

It's red, round, rock-hard and, when flung at speeds in excess of 90mph, can crack bones.

But a cricket ball which could be the difference between England retaining or losing the Ashes? Ring the hyperbole alarm.

However, for England's bowlers the difference is as clear as night and day - or Dukes and Kookaburra to be more precise.

The controversial Jabulani football, which made some of the globe's most skilful footballers look like 'drunk sailors' with its unpredictable aerial trajectories at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, showed that not all footballs behave the same.

And it is no different with cricket balls.

Just ask England coach Andy Flower, who instructed his fast bowlers to become accustomed to the Kookaburra, the ball of choice in Australia, for the past five months.

Stuart Broad and David Saker
David Saker (right) wants his bowlers to focus on old-fashioned principles

James Anderson's unrivalled ability to manipulate the ball, to make it swing in or out to a right-handed batsman with a subtle change of grip and wrist position, earned him 23 wickets against Pakistan in the summer at a measly average of just 13.74, one wicket every 36 deliveries.

England fans will be salivating at the prospect of a repeat in the Ashes but commentators have been more cautious - would the Lancashire seamer struggle because the ball used in England behaves differently to the one used in Australia?

England use a hand-stitched ball manufactured by Kent-based company Dukes while Australia, and most of the Test-playing world, utilise the Kookaburra "Turf" ball made in Victoria.

Side by side and these two balls are almost identical - bits of cork wrapped in string encased in red leather stitched together by thread. But there are differences - and significant ones too.

"The Dukes ball tends to be slightly darker in colour," former Australia fast bowler Jason Gillespie told BBC Sport.

"A brand new Kookaburra swings immediately whereas the Dukes probably swings more from about six to 10 overs old."

The seam, the stitching around the middle of the ball, is key. it acts as a 'rudder' for the fast bowler, enabling them to move the ball in the air depending on their grip.

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew says the Kookaburra seam is "flatter and a little wider" while Gillespie believes the Dukes seam "feels thinner but tends to not wear down as quickly as the Kookaburras".

The overhead conditions play an enormous factor in the condition of the ball. The lusher, greener outfields of England, kept verdant by the inevitable summer rain showers, help to preserve the Dukes ball after the initial sheen has worn off.

One shiny side, assisted by a good spit and polish from the fielders, and one rough side are a swing bowler's dream, the aerodynamics helping the ball to move in the air.

In complete contrast, the sun-baked Australian pitches are hard and abrasive, which quickly scuffs up the Kookaburra and its brand-new sheen, which means any opportunity for swing must be seized within the first 10 to 15 overs.

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"The Kookaburras don't last as long in Australia, maybe 12-15 overs. The abrasiveness nature of the pitches is a massive factor," said Gillespie, who took 65 Ashes wickets in 18 Tests over an 11-year career.

"You tend to bring your length back a bit once it stops swinging."

One of the reasons why England's bowlers did not manage to swing the Kookaburra during the disastrous 5-0 drubbing in 2006/07 was the composition of their bowling attack.

Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff were back-of-a-length bowlers, hitting the pitch hard to extract steep bounce at pace from height.

While Steve Finn shares similar attributes with his illustrious predecessors, Anderson is the opposite, bowling a fuller length to encourage the ball to swing, along with Stuart Broad.

"Jimmy Anderson is the best swing bowler in the world and we have bowlers on this tour who seek to swing the ball more than the likes of Flintoff and Harmison, excellent bowlers as they were," said England's Australian bowling coach David Saker.

"I'm sure we can make the Kookaburra swing."

Further encouragement comes in Brisbane, venue for the first Test at the Gabba and where England's bowlers have been acclimatising for the past week.

Gillespie said the ball will swing there more than at any other ground in Australia because of the hot and humid tropical conditions.

Perth's Waca is another ground where he expects the ball to swing, especially during the afternoon session with the assistance of the Fremantle Doctor, the sea breeze that cools the scorching temperatures in Western Australia's main city during the summer.

Flintoff confident England will beat Australia

And reverse swing, the ability to move the older ball in the latter stages of an innings, becomes a significant factor in Adelaide and Sydney, two grounds offering encouragement for spinner Graeme Swann, who also has a vested interest in the 'swingability' of the Kookaburra.

"Swann's great strength is that he gets the ball to drift in its flight, away from the right-handers and in to the left-handers, before breaking the ball back the other way," said former England coach Duncan Fletcher, who orchestrated the 2005 Ashes victory.

"An off-spinner's grip angles the seam from mid-off to fine-leg. That is the same as for an inswinger from a fast bowler.

"The drift moves the ball away from the right-handed batsman, against the angle of the seam. If that movement is not there, and the Kookaburra may be less conducive to it, then Swann is not going to be nearly as effective.

"He faced the same difficulties last winter but the South Africans played him poorly. The Australians are likely to be better at it."

There will be large sessions of the forthcoming Ashes series where the Kookaburra ball will do little or nothing in the air, where good old-fashioned line and length bowling principles apply, summed up succinctly by Saker.

He said: "At the end of the day it [the Kookaburra] is just a cricket ball. Bowl it in the perfect area and then see what happens."



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see also
England will win Ashes - Flintoff
22 Nov 10 |  Cricket
Justin Langer column
22 Nov 10 |  Cricket
Can England win down under?
19 Nov 10 |  England
Watch BBC Sport's Ashes trail
19 Nov 10 |  Test Match Special
Australia selectors drop Hauritz
20 Nov 10 |  Australia
Strauss predicts success in Ashes
28 Oct 10 |  England
Swing and seam - the basic grip
06 Sep 05 |  Skills
What is reverse swing?
19 Aug 05 |  England


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