Home » ‘Worst decision ever’: How Aussie icon infiltrated English cricket… and sparked 86-year meltdown

‘Worst decision ever’: How Aussie icon infiltrated English cricket… and sparked 86-year meltdown

The ECB’s decision to trial the Kookaburra ball for four rounds of the County Championship has prompted widespread debate in the United Kingdom after 15 of the competition’s first 16 matches ended as draws.

In a bid to help develop England’s future Test cricketers, the Australian-made Kookaburra has replaced the traditional Dukes ball for the opening two rounds of this year’s County Championship. The Kookaburra’s introduction, recommended in 2022 by Andrew Strauss’ high performance review, was designed to mimic overseas conditions and better equip English cricketers for future tours, most notably the 2025/26 Ashes tour of Australia.

However, partly because of persistent rain and slow pitches, there has only been one outright result from 18 scheduled matches thus far, with two contests abandoned due to weather.

Comparatively, there were 11 positive results during the first two rounds of last year’s competition when the bowler-friendly Dukes ball was used.

This week marked just the third time in history when every match in a County Championship round where all 18 counties played simultaneously ended as a draw.

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In sixteen first-class matches, there have been 39 centuries, five doubles and a triple. The competition batting average of 44.49 is the highest figure in a month of County Championship action since September 1938, while wickets have fallen every 73.3 deliveries this year compared to every 52.3 balls during last year’s opening two rounds.

Middlesex’s bowlers have found the Kookaburra particularly arduous, taking 11 wickets at 109.36 this season, while Warwickshire declared at 3-698 during this week’s high-scoring contest against Durham.

“The ball goes very soft very quickly and there’s no competition between bat and ball when it’s a good wicket with a Kookaburra early season in England,” Middlesex coach Richard Johnson said this week.

“Hopefully it’s an experiment we don’t carry on with.”

Jamie Overton and Ben Foakes of Surrey. Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images for Surrey CCCSource: Getty Images

The machine-made Kookaburra has a less ­pronounced seam and goes softer earlier, subsequently moving less extravagantly through the air and off the pitch, while the hand-stitched Dukes has a tendency to swing and seam for longer. The two balls are also coated in a different type of lacquer, further distinguishing their behaviour.

The Kookaburra trial has seemingly nullified medium-pace bowlers that rely heavily on the ball’s movement, instead rewarding seamers with extra pace. Earlier this month, Essex quick Sam Cook claimed 10-73 against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge to force the only result of the County Championship thus far, later explaining that he couldn’t rely on the Kookaburra’s natural movement once it went soft.

“When it does get a little soft, it’s about using your skills, whether it’s a little bit of wobble-seam or reverse-swing,” Cook said.

Apart from top-order batters, spin bowlers have been the Kookaburra’s leading beneficiaries, with tweakers sending down 37 per cent of deliveries this season compared to 17 per cent during equivalent rounds last year. After just two matches, defending champions Surrey have already taken more wickets with spinners than they managed during the entirety of last season’s County Championship.

The Kookaburra experiment has received mixed reviews within the United Kingdom, with Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart calling it “the worst decision ever”. When asked for his thoughts on the Australian-made ball earlier this month, Somerset skipper Lewis Gregory responded: “Can I swear?”

Rob Key, managing director of the England men’s cricket, hailed the Kookaburra’s implementation as a success, expressing his desire for it to become a permanent fixture in the domestic first-class season, which would require a consensus among the counties and sign-off from the ECB’s professional game committee.

“I would use the Kookaburra all the time. English cricket would be much better off for it,” Key told The Guardian this week.

“Teams need to find quicker bowlers or ones who will force a wicket. You can’t just keep running up bowling at 75mph. And in terms of those guys who are not express, you really work out who can bowl.

“I want us to be the best team in the world for a generation; this will be one way to do that.”

Former England captain Michael Vaughan also applauded the experiment, suggesting it would be worthwhile having Kookaburra balls for half of the County Championship season.

“I understand the seamers being grumpy and lambasting the Kookaburra, but what it has exposed to a few in the county game is that international cricket is hard – especially overseas,” Vaughan wrote in The Telegraph.

“You cannot just rely on bowling a hard length and letting the ball and conditions do the rest of the work for you.

“County cricket primarily exists for the fans and members, but it still has to produce Test cricketers, and this will help.”

Cricket Australia also experimented with using the Dukes in the Sheffield Shield between 2016 and 2020, but the initiative was scrapped due to fears the seam-friendly ball would make the nation’s spinners obsolete.

The Dukes ball returns to the County Championship on Friday, but the Kookaburra trial will resume for another two rounds in late August and early September.