A cricket ball is a hard, solid ball used to play cricket. A cricket ball consists of cork covered by leather, and manufacture is regulated by cricket law at first class level. The manipulation of a cricket ball, through employment of its various physical properties, is the staple component of bowling and dismissing batsmen – movement in the air, and off the ground, is influenced by the condition of the ball, the efforts of the bowler and the pitch while working on the cricket ball to obtain an optimum condition is a key role of the fielding side. The cricket ball is the principal manner through which the batsman scores runs, by manipulating the ball into a position where it would be safe to take a run, or by directing the ball through the boundary.
In Test cricket, professional domestic games that spread over a multitude of days, and almost the entirety of amateur cricket, the traditional red cricket ball is used. In many one day cricket matches, a white ball is used instead in order to remain visible under floodlights, and since 2010, pink has been introduced to contrast with players' white clothing. Training balls of white, red and pink are also common, and windballs and tennis balls in a cricket motif can be used for training or informal cricket matches. During cricket matches, the quality of the ball changes to a point where it is no longer usable, and during this decline its properties alter and thus influence the match. Altering the state of the cricket ball outside the permitted manners designated in the rules of cricket is prohibited during a match, and 'ball tampering' has resulted in numerous controversies.
Cricket balls, weighing between 155.9 and 163.0 grammes, are known for their hardness and for the risk of injury involved when using them. The danger of cricket balls was a key motivator for the introduction of protective equipment. Injuries due to cricket balls occur, and fatalities have been attributed to cricket balls.
The nature of the cricket ball slightly varies with its manufacturer. White Kookaburra balls are used in One Day Internationals and T20Is, while red Kookaburras are used in Tests played in most of the 10 Test-playing nations, the exceptions being the West Indies and England teams, who use Dukes, and India, who use SG balls.
A cricket ball is made from a core of cork, which is layered with tightly wound string, and covered by a leather case with a slightly raised sewn seam. In a top-quality ball suitable for the highest levels of competition, the covering is constructed of four pieces of leather shaped similar to the peel of a quartered orange, but one hemisphere is rotated by 90 degrees with respect to the other. The "equator" of the ball is stitched with string to form the ball's prominent seam, with six rows of stitches. The remaining two joins between the leather pieces are stitched internally. Lower-quality balls with a 2-piece covering are also popular for practice and lower-level competition due to their lower cost.
For men's cricket, the ball must weigh between 5 1/2 and 5 3/4 ounces (155.9 and 163.0 g) and measure between 8 13/16 and 9 in (224 and 229 mm) in circumference. In women's cricket the ball must weigh between 4 15/16 and 5 1/16 ounces (139.9 and 143.5 g) and measure between 8.3 and 8.9 in (210 and 225 mm) in circumference. A plastic cricket ball (known as a "Kwik cricket ball") is often used in matches for players who are or younger than 9 years old. Matches for 10 to 13 year olds are played with a ball weighing between 4 11/16 and 5 1/16 ounces (132.9 and 143.5 g). The ball for 10 to 13 year old games must measure between 8 and 8.9 in (205 and 225 mm). Any match for 14 year olds and above which is not a men's match is still played with a fully sized men's cricket ball.
Cricket balls are traditionally red, and red balls are used in Test cricket and First-class cricket. White balls were introduced when one-day matches began being played at night under floodlights, as they are more visible at night. Professional one-day matches are now played with white balls, even when they are not played at night. Other colours have occasionally been experimented with, such as yellow and orange (Glowing composite) for improved night visibility, but the colouring process has so far rendered such balls unsuitable for professional play because they wear differently from standard balls. A pink ball was used for the first time in an international match in July 2009 when the England Woman's team defeated Australia at Wormsley. The white ball has been found to swing a lot more during the first half of the innings than the red ball and also deteriorates more quickly, although manufacturers claim that white and red balls are manufactured using the same methods and materials.
Cricket balls are expensive. As of 2007, the ball used in first class cricket in England has a recommended retail price of 70 pounds sterling. In test match cricket this ball is used for a minimum of 80 overs (theoretically five hours and twenty minutes of play). In professional one day cricket, at least two new balls are used for each match. Amateur cricketers often have to use old balls, or cheap substitutes, in which case the changes in the condition of the ball may not be experienced in the same manner as that which occurs during an innings of professional cricket.
The manufacturer of the cricket ball used in international matches can depend upon location. The white Kookaburra balls are used in one-day internationals & T20Is, while the red Kookaburra is used in Tests in most nations apart from West Indies & England (Dukes) and India (SG). All One Day International matches, regardless of location, are played with Kookaburra balls. ICC took the controversial decision to use a white "Duke" ball for the 1999 Cricket World Cup. Due to the erratic behaviour of the ball, the experiment was not repeated. For the 2012 season, Pakistan adopted Kookaburra balls also for their First Class Cricket. Prior to that Grays had been supplying locally manufactured balls in the Patron's Trophy. This change was inappropriate since some departments found it difficult to bear the cost of the imported Kookaburra. PCB switched back to Grays the following season.
An ongoing challenge associated with the white cricket balls used in One Day Internationals is that they become dirty fairly quickly, which makes it more difficult for batsmen to sight the ball later in the innings. Since October 2012, this has been managed by the use of two new white balls in each innings, with a different ball used from each bowling end; the same strategy was used in the 1992 and 1996 Cricket World Cups. Prior to this, ICC had announced in October 2007 that one new ball was to be used from the start of the innings, then swapped at the end of the 34th over with a "reconditioned ball", which was neither new nor too dirty to see. Before October 2007, except during 1992 and 1996 World Cups, only one ball was used during an innings of an ODI and it was the umpires discretion to change the ball if it was difficult to see.
Cricket balls can be bowled at near 100mph, made to deviate from a straight course, both in the air and off the ground, hit by a batsman in the air about 100 yards and thrown by a fielder a similar distance. They are used as mementos of significant achievements such as a hat trick.
Condition of a cricket ball
In test cricket, a new highly polished ball is used at the start of each innings in a match. In Limited Over Internationals, two new balls, one from each end, are used at the start of each innings in a match. A cricket ball may not be replaced except under specific conditions described in the Laws of Cricket:
- If the ball becomes damaged or lost.
- If the condition of the ball is illegally modified by a player.
- In Test cricket, after 80 overs, the captain of the bowling side has the option to take a new ball.
The ball is not replaced if it is hit into the crowd - the crowd must return it. If the ball is damaged, lost, or illegally modified, it will be replaced by a used ball in similar condition to the replaced ball. A new ball can only be used after the specified minimum number of overs have been bowled with the old one.
Because a single ball is used for an extended period of play, its surface wears down and becomes rough. The bowlers will polish it whenever they can - usually by rubbing it on their trousers, producing the characteristic red stain that can often be seen there. However, they will usually only polish one side of the ball, in order to create 'swing' as it travels through the air. They may apply natural substances (i.e. saliva or sweat) to the ball as they polish it.
The seam of a cricket ball can also be used to produce different trajectories through the air, with the technique known as swing bowling, or to produce sideways movement as it bounces off the pitch, with the technique known as seam bowling.
Since the condition of the cricket ball is crucial to the amount of movement through the air a bowler can produce, the laws governing what players may and may not do to the ball are specific and rigorously enforced. The umpires will inspect the ball frequently during a match. It is illegal for a player to:
- rub any substance apart from saliva or sweat onto the ball
- rub the ball on the ground
- scuff the ball with any rough object, including the fingernails
- pick at or lift the seam of the ball.
Despite these rules, it can be tempting for players to gain an advantage by breaking them. There have been a handful of incidents of so-called ball tampering at the highest levels of cricket, involving players such as Pakistani fast bowler Waqar Younis and former England captain Mike Atherton.
A new cricket ball is harder than a worn one, and is preferred by fast bowlers because of the speed and bounce of the ball as it bounces off the pitch. Older balls tend to spin more as the roughness grips the pitch more when the ball bounces, so spin bowlers prefer to use a worn ball. Uneven wear on older balls may also make reverse swing possible. A captain may delay the request for a new ball if he prefers to have his spin bowlers operating, but usually asks for the new ball soon after it becomes available.
Dangers of cricket balls
Cricket balls are hard and potentially lethal, hence most of today's batsmen and close fielders often wear protective equipment.
In 1998, Indian cricketer Raman Lamba died when a cricket ball hit his head in a club match in Dhaka. Lamba was fielding at forward short-leg without wearing a helmet when a ball struck by batsman Mehrab Hossain hit him hard on the head and rebounded to wicket-keeper Khaled Mashud.
In November 2014, Australia and New South Wales batsman Phillip Hughes died at the age of 25 at a Sydney hospital after succumbing to an injury sustained from being hit on the side of the neck by a bouncer Sean Abbott during a Sheffield Shield game. The same week, Hillel Oscar, an umpire and former captain of Israel's national cricket team died after being hit in the neck by a ball.
Other cricketers known to have died as a result of on-field injuries in a first-class fixture after being hit while batting are George Summers of Nottinghamshire, who was struck on the head at Lord's in 1870 and died four days later, Abdul Aziz, a Karachi wicket-keeper who was hit over the heart in the 1958-59 Quaid-i-Azam Trophy final and Ian Folley of Lancashire (playing for Whitehaven at the time), who was hit below the eye in 1993 and died of a heart attack during surgery.
Frederick, Prince of Wales is often said to have died of complications after being hit by a cricket ball, although the connection between the incident and his official cause of death is unproven. Glamorgan player Roger Davis was almost killed by a ball in 1971 when he was hit on the head while fielding. The Indian batsman Nariman 'Nari' Contractor had to retire from the game after being hit by a ball on the head in the West Indies.
Numerous injuries are reported to health institutions worldwide in relation to cricket ball injuries, including eye (with some players having lost eyes), head and face, finger and toe, teeth and testicular injuries.
Alternatives to cricket balls
Sometimes alternatives to a real cricket ball may be preferred for reasons of safety, practice, availability and cost. Examples include a tennis ball (most favoured) or a plastic version of the cricket ball.
Many casual players use a tennis ball wrapped in layers of some type of adhesive tape (often electrical tape), which makes the relatively soft tennis ball harder and smoother. This is commonly referred to as a tape ball. A common variant is to tape only half the tennis ball, to provide two different sides and make it easy to bowl with prodigious amounts of swing.
- Baseball (ball): Traditionally made quite similarly, with a cork center (today usually rubber) wrapped tightly with string and encased in leather.
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