ECB insist nothing dodgy about Ashes ball choice
ENGLAND and Wales Cricket Board managing director Ashley Giles has tried to fend off accusations of acting "underhandedly" in the board's decision to use balls that specifically favour their chief pace bowlers in the upcoming Ashes.
Visiting Australian batsmen have long struggled with the extra lateral movement and swing the Dukes ball that is used in England provides.
A new version of the ball, with a less pronounced seam that deviates less off the pitch and so, in theory, ought to make life easier for batsmen, has been in use in English county cricket this season.
However, possibly spooked by the return to national duty of star batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner, the ECB have announced that the original ball, more favourable to spearhead bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad, will return in time for the five-match Test series later this winter.
No one needs to tell Australia about the potential pitfalls that can come from trying to manipulate a cricket ball in your own favour, of course.
And Giles instead accusations of impropriety were way off the mark; the aim, on his telling, to ensure a "fair contest" between bat and ball rather than have bowler-friendly "two-day Tests".
Responding to suggestions that England were simply trying to maximise home advantage, Giles said: "People will say that, but that's why we want to be on the front foot.
"We didn't want to appear as though we were doing this underhandedly.
"I've spoken to Cricket Australia, they were fine, and I've spoken to Cricket Ireland (who play at Lord's in July).
"It's not as though we're talking about playing against a bowling attack that isn't very good.
"The Aussies are quite handy themselves," he said of a fast-bowling line-up that could include the pace barrage quartet of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson.
"There are elements of risk in choosing to go with this other ball. But clearly Jimmy Anderson is one of our best weapons, one of the best bowlers who has ever played the game, and we want to bring him into the game.
The balls used in this season's Championship are wound tighter at the seam and scores in English cricket's domestic first-class competition are considerably higher than at a comparable stage in 2018.
Cricket balls vary greatly between manufacturers, with the Kookaburra that has long been standard in Australia having a less pronounced seam.
Australia, in a bid to try to get used to English conditions, used the 2017/18 specification Dukes ball in second half of their recently concluded 2018/19 first-class Sheffield Shield tournament.
But with weather and pitch conditions also affecting the movement of the ball - grey skies and green-tinged pitches that are more common in England than in the warmer climate of Australia tend to offer more movement to quicker bowlers - it remains to be seen how much this will help the tourists when the Ashes start at Birmingham's Edgbaston ground on August 1.
One consolation for the tourists is that there is no Ashes Test at Trent Bridge this year. Broad took eight for 15 as Australia were skittled out for just 60 on his Nottinghamshire home ground on the way to a defeat inside three days that saw England clinch the 2015 Ashes.
Officials at this year's five Ashes venues may well have concerns about maximising their income if a Test ends well inside five days.
"Test cricket has definitely sped up in the last few years but it's not about having a two-day game," said Giles.
"It's about having a fair contest. My concern was that this 2019 ball would make conditions too batter friendly on good Test wickets in the middle of summer."