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The Dukes debate: Maybe we should just concentrate on hitting our own ball

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Expert
21st February, 2019
12

Should Australia abandon the Dukes ball experiment for something more appropriate, like training our batsmen to hit a beach ball in a stocking?

Our nation’s quest to domesticate this untamed nightmare is currently into its third season, with the project at a pivotal stage as Australia enter preparations for another Ashes surrender in August.

Our desperate pursuit for state secrets has seen the ball infiltrate the Sheffield Shield, with the competition considered the most appropriate forum for testing now that it’s a multi-purpose laboratory and not a competition.

Trials are set to recommence in the next round of matches beginning this Saturday, once again resurfacing a number of questions about this evil seed and its power to belittle a nation’s ego.

Firstly, should our border protection policy outlaw anything that hoops at right angles? And can we stave off humiliation in England using the Dukes in a few extended centre practices on the other side of the world?

While many see the virtues in acclimatising to the host’s ball as an avenue to our Ashes dream of avoiding a follow-on, many are pondering if our batsmen should be training to hit a foreign ball if we can’t hit our own.

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For those unaware, the Dukes ball has been a bone of contention for Australia ever since we started playing all around it in the mid 2000s.

Our batsmen have remained tormented since, with the entire nation’s stocks bemused by its darker hue, prouder seam and eminent magnetism to the syrupy spit of an Englishman.

With the ball solely responsible for Australia going winless in England since 2001, we were left with no option but to jump into bed with the devil with the long-term goal of batting past lunch on the first day.

Results at home have been mixed so far, with most batsmen suffering the cognitive dissonance of being encouraged by our own bowlers’ prodigious swing, before adding the extra 450 percent for James Anderson.

England's James Anderson, centre, celebrates taking a wicket

(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

But will all this hard work matter in August? Because – without catastrophising – Australia’s tour is an imminent disaster that transcends balls.

Sure, England have their own troubles, but they aren’t mired in a turbulent identity crisis as they overhaul a century of core behaviour while juggling a batting drought and the prospect of averaging 31 for eternity. They just blipped in the Windies.

With our comparatively hospitable straight-breaking local ball – nay, friend – in the Kookaburra proving deceptively straight to our top order, I’m skeptical of what three rounds of Dukes can really achieve.

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The plan’s appeal dims further when you consider the local version is made for Australian conditions- reportedly designed for harder wickets, faster outfields and slower internet – whereas the English version is softer and takes to the field in a beanie.

Is this really enough to accurately recreate the movement we’ll see in England from great exponents of the swinging ball, like Marcus Trescothick?

For true efficacy, wouldn’t we need to go the whole hog and replicate the Mother Country with similar pitches, cloud cover and a botched removal from the European Union?

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While this additional 4 percent edge of facing the ball at home could have influenced a tight 2-1 defeat like 2005, it would only equate to an extra three leg-byes when you’re being rolled for 60 at Trent Bridge, and/or relying on Marnus Labuschagne at three.

So barring an unforeseen resurgence of biblical proportions at the World Cup, Australian batsmen will be fed to the English seam attack in the Ashes, regardless of ball, Steve Smith, David Warner or an old school pommy meltdown.

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Worse still, we can’t even rely on equivalent benefits for our bowlers, with our attack’s ability to make the ball talk rendered mute since Cape Town. It truly will be an awful time to be alive. Good time difference for ratings though.

The bridge is too far to gap for a little ball. In light of this, we should remain insular by practicing exclusively with our own ball at Manuka Oval, that way we can at least protect our own predictable home whitewashes.

Stop trying to recreate England, unless it involves poaching some South Africans.