IT IS a battle of Ashes proportions – and all over a cricket ball. The iconic Australian manufacturer Kookaburra is aghast at Cricket Australia’s intention to introduce the English-made Dukes ball to the domestic game, a plan that threatens to cut into what is virtually a monopoly business for the 122-year-old Melbourne company.
Used for Test matches in England and dating back to the 18th century, the Dukes ball was seen as a key instrument of Australia’s demise on the 2005 and 2009 Ashes tours with its propensity to swing more in the right pitch and weather conditions.
Now the managing director of manufacturer British Cricket Balls, Dilip Jajodia, has his eye on inflicting more pain on the Australian market leader – and CA’s plan to trial the hand-stitched, darker red Dukes ball in under-age championships and some second-XI games this season is the green light he has been chasing.
Schools and club associations are next on the English radar but in many instances they must wait until Kookaburra’s myriad ball contracts, which run between three and five years, expire.
‘‘Dilip Jajodia has been trying to break into the market for quite some time,’’ said Phil O’Meara of Eagle Sports, the local Dukes distributor. ‘‘It’s perhaps the first time he’s actually got support from Cricket Australia, so it’s an opening for us.
‘‘In the marketplace here Kookaburra are so strong they’ve perhaps tied up I’d say 90 per cent of the four-piece market with contracts with all the associations and perhaps 80 per cent of the two-piece market. You’ve got to wait for a contract to come up before you can even bid for it.’’
Kookaburra, which is used for Tests in all countries bar England and India (which uses the SG Ball), produces more than 500,000 balls a year in 50 styles but is more expensive than competitors such as Dukes, a motivating factor for CA, which says local clubs are under financial strain.
Despite its international prominence the company’s main revenue is sourced domestically. ‘‘I would sell 1000 Kookaburra balls to two Dukes balls,’’ said Harry Solomons of Kingsgrove Sports Centre.
The Kookaburra director, Rob Elliot, said that equation would change dramatically if CA pushed on with a desire to bring in different styles of balls, including the SG Ball, potentially up to Sheffield Shield level in an effort to better equip players for overseas tours.
‘‘If we are not supported by cricket in Australia then Kookaburra won’t exist, basically,’’ Mr Elliot said. ‘‘If Cricket Australia and if cricket’s not supporting Kookaburra and wants to go down the imported path, then the manufacturing of cricket balls will go to the subcontinent and it will be the end of Kookaburra as we know it.’’
A CA spokesman said: ‘‘The Kookaburra ball will continue to be used in the vast majority of elite cricket matches in Australia.”
with Jared Lynch