LONDON (Reuters) - It is easy to imagine England’s record-breaking bowler James Anderson walking around Dilip Jajodia’s cricket ball factory in London’s East End wearing the expression of a child in a toy shop.
The sight of a box load of freshly polished cherry-red Dukes balls would surely quicken the pulse of the 37-year-old paceman, who has made the leather spheres his weapon of a choice over a distinguished test career.
Jajodia, managing director of British Cricket Balls Ltd, has been busy overseeing the production and delivery of the 60 Dukes balls that will be used in the five-test Ashes series between England and Australia, starting at Edgbaston on Thursday.
The reason Anderson’s eyes light up when he is thrown a new Dukes is that 368 of his 575 test wickets have come on home soil, where the ball has been the default during his long career.
Chuck him an Australia-manufactured Kookaburra, the brand used outside England and West Indies, and his bowling has been not nearly as effective.
The reason, Jajodia explains, is the pronounced hand-stitched seam that allows the Dukes ball to retain its “rudder” and aerodynamic qualities longer than machine-stitched balls.
Put simply, when delivered correctly, it swings more and for longer.
“A machine-stitched ball has two rows of stitches, with hand stitching there are six rows which hold the ball together and that means it retains its shape even after 60 overs,” he told Reuters as three employees lovingly prepared the next batch.
“The fascination of cricket is that the ball changes its characteristics to suit different style of bowling. The Dukes ball is crafted to deteriorate slowly over 80 overs.
“Whereas the seam on a machine-stitched ball tends to go flat after being whacked around for 60 overs, the seam on our balls remains pronounced even when it’s old.”
Jajodia bought the 259-year-old business in 1987 when the entire production process was carried out in Kent, to the south of the British capital.
Since the mid-1990s, however, the raw material, premium-grade cow hide, has been sourced in Britain, cut into strips, then sent to the sub-continent to be stitched over the inner ball of rubber and cork by skilled craftsmen.
Four strips make up one ball with the highest-quality leather coming from close to the spine of the hide.
“Mix leather from the back with the stomach in one ball and it all goes pear-shaped,” Jajodia said.
Once stitched, the balls are shipped back to his Walthamstow premises for finishing.
That involves embossing the distinctive coat of arms, checking the size (maximum 9 inches) and weight (156-163g), then milling — a process where the ball is inserted into a vice-like round mould and gently squeezed to create a perfect sphere.
After that a wax is carefully melted into the leather before a final layer of polish is applied.
“The wax is heated when players rub the ball on their trousers and comes to the surface to renew the shine and help it swing,” Jajodi says.
Added to his global customers next year will be Australia’s Sheffield Shield state championship — a move that in the long term is sure to reduce the fear Australian batsmen sometimes experience when facing the unfamiliar Dukes.
Jajodia, though, dismisses any suggestion he was asked to produce a ball with an even more pronounced seam for the Ashes series.
“Actually, for the English county season the ECB asked us to slightly flatten the seam to give the batsmen more of a chance,” he said.
“But with the Ashes looming the powers that be said can we go back to the 2018 specification, the one the produced one of the best series ever against India.
“The modern game has become batter-friendly and I see the Dukes as evening it up a bit. But people think anyone can make a Dukes ball move in the air. It’s still an incredible skill.
“I watched the test at Lord’s last week (when England were bowled out for 85 and Ireland for 38) and it was amazing to watch. There was not much movement, but just enough.”
Anderson did not play in that match but he will be back at Edgbaston, Dukes ball in hand. Australia beware.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Nick Mulvenney