Ashes defence unlikely to benefit from Dukes balls

Australia's hopes of mastering the English-made Dukes cricket balls in time for the 2019 Ashes series have not been done any favours by the remaining two years of the Future Tours program.

The Duke balls were introduced for the second half of last summer's Sheffield Shield and will again be used when the first-class season resumes after the Big Bash League.

The use of the Dukes ball came in response to Australia's Ashes woes in England, with the visitors failing to win there since Steve Waugh's team cruised to victory in 2001.

One reason for the struggles has seen to be a lack of familiarisation with the Dukes, for they have a higher seam, more lacquer and are slightly smaller and lighter than Australia's traditional Kookaburra balls. So Cricket Australia opted to experiment by putting the Kookaburra on ice post-Christmas.

The move has received a mixed response, and may not provide a great deal of help for the Australians come their Ashes defence in 2019, particularly with the core of that team unlikely to change between now and then.

When the Dukes are reintroduced in round six of the Sheffield Shield, beginning February 8, the key men in the Australian line-up - Steve Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon - are likely to be playing in the Twenty20 tri-series against England and New Zealand, or rested ahead of the demanding four-Test series in South Africa.

Once the Australian summer comes to a close in 2019, with Test series against India and Sri Lanka expected to go deep into January because of India's late arrival, Australia's key men are again unlikely to feature in the shield because of a busy schedule.

The FTP shows Australia is set to host New Zealand in either a one-day or Twenty20 series in early February and then head to India for five one-day internationals and a pair of T20s. In March, the Australians will play three Tests against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, at a time when the shield campaign is coming to a close.

The World Cup will be staged in England from May 30 until July 15, with the five-Test Ashes campaign beginning later that month.

While some shield players believe there is merit in using the Dukes ball - new Test opener Cameron Bancroft had the chance to do so last summer and may again this year - others have questioned its value, particularly with so much cricket using a Kookaburra ball to be staged before the next Ashes series.

Cricket Victoria team boss Shaun Graf said in March the Duke ball was a problem because it went soft too quickly and did not reverse swing in certain conditions. It's also been pointed out that England pair Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have been successful at home because the overall conditions, including the weather and pitch, are more friendly to swing bowling and cannot be replicated here.

The balls used in the shield are not the same as those adopted in England. The local version is a derivative of the balls used in the West Indies and upgraded to suit Australian conditions. The Dukes ball was also introduced to add competitive tension in the market, with Kookaburra having enjoyed a long-time dominance.

This story Ashes defence unlikely to benefit from Dukes balls first appeared on The Age.