Mitchell: How Dukes get their colours right

The Cricket Paper - - FRONT PAGE - Ali­son Mitchell learns the se­crets of the factory which pro­vides the weaponry for the day/night Test ex­per­i­ment Ali­son presents Stumped, the weekly cricket pod­cast from the BBC World Ser­vice

Look out for the blue door. Call me if you can’t find it. That was the in­struc­tion is­sued by Dukes’ owner Dilip Ja­jo­dia be­fore I paid him a visit at the Dukes’ factory in Waltham­stow, East London. The build­ing has a fairly face­less, pale brick fa­cade, with, as de­scribed, a dou­ble wooden door, painted blue. Fixed to the door on the left, is the street num­ber. On the right there is a red ‘no park­ing’ sign. There is noth­ing to sug­gest that this is the head­quar­ters of the man­u­fac­tur­ers of all Test and first-class cricket balls in the UK, and now the provider of pink balls for the UK’s first day/night Test.

I knock and there is no an­swer. A pad­lock is keep­ing the door firmly shut. I am, how­ever, ten min­utes early for my meet­ing with Ja­jo­dia. Sud­denly a well­dressed be­spec­ta­cled man ap­proaches from down the street, clutch­ing a sand­wich and a cof­fee cup. Ja­jo­dia had just nipped out to buy his lunch. He greets me warmly, apol­o­gises for not be­ing here when I ar­rived and af­ter fid­dling with two dif­fer­ent locks on the blue door, we en­ter Dukes HQ.

It’s more of a ware­house than a factory. Brown card­board boxes full of cricket balls, pads, shirts, trousers and um­pires coats are stacked to the ceil­ing ready for dis­tri­bu­tion to clubs, shops and coun­ties. The floor in one of the work­shops is strewn with plas­tic bas­kets and more card­board boxes, each con­tain­ing a spe­cific num­ber of dif­fer­ent coloured balls, in dif­fer­ent stages of readi­ness.

Waltham­stow is where the fin­ish­ing touches are ap­plied to the pink Test match balls used at Edg­bas­ton. Ja­jo­dia has al­ready se­lected the best 12 by his own hand to be sent off to the ECB. Prior to Edg­bas­ton, each of the four other flood­lit Tests in the world have fea­tured a pink ball made by Aus­tralian com­pany Kook­aburra. The ECB, how­ever, chose to stick with their pre­ferred provider of Test balls in this coun­try, Dukes. If the ball is a suc­cess, Ja­jo­dia hopes it might be adopted for use in other coun­tries, too.

“We were set a chal­lenge,” says Ja­jo­dia. “Can you pro­duce a pink cricket ball for use in all con­di­tions? Once you ac­cept a chal­lenge like that from in­ter­na­tional crick­et­ing bod­ies, you have to spend a bit of time mak­ing sure that you get it right. So once we had pre­served all the things we be­lieve in, in terms of the raw ma­te­rial, the key was to make sure the shade of pink, and the way it pen­e­trates into the leather, was right.”

The raw ma­te­rial re­mains Bri­tish cow hide (the best part of the hide for cricket ball leather is the back, says Ja­jo­dia, rather than shoul­der or sides). How­ever, rather than hav­ing the skins tanned and dyed at Clay­ton & Sons in Der­byshire, where the leather for the red Dukes is pro­cessed, Ja­jo­dia has turned to a dif­fer­ent UK tan­nery, with whom he has worked to de­velop the dy­ing and fin­ish­ing process specif­i­cally for Test match pink.

“We had to crack this prob­lem where peo­ple said it is im­pos­si­ble to dye a cricket ball leather pink. But we set about try­ing to get it right. The leather is dyed through. Ab­so­lutely vi­tal. Hav­ing said that, you can’t then carry on as if it’s red, be­cause with red, we ap­ply grease, and grease makes leather go darker. With this, you have to pre­serve that vi­brant pink, so we had to ap­ply a pig­ment to the sur­face to make sure that it pre­served the colour.”

So far, the process is very sim­i­lar to that used for the pink Kook­aburra ball, where the leather is dyed pink, be­fore hav­ing a fi­nal spray coat of pig­ment added to give the de­sired vi­brancy for vis­i­bil­ity. Fi­nally, for the Kook­aburra, a coat of hard ni­tro-cel­lu­lose lac­quer is ap­plied, to pro­tect the ball in abra­sive Aus­tralian con­di­tions.

Ja­jo­dia be­lieves his tan­nery’s method of push­ing the pig­ment right into the fol­li­cles of the skin will help the ball to re­tain its colour. They’ve coded their par­tic­u­lar shade of pink, C5.

“It’s both sprayed and rolled, be­cause I think that makes it pretty tough. The colour is ac­tu­ally into the grain. We haven’t had any prob­lems with it peel­ing off in all the ex­per­i­ments that we’ve done.”

Kook­aburra de­vel­oped their own ‘fin­ish’, which they’ve called G7, and Ja­jo­dia be­lieves that Dukes, too, have hit upon a for­mula, which will pro­duce a suc­cess­ful pink ball, ca­pa­ble of last­ing 80 overs, but pro­vid­ing lev­els of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion sim­i­lar to the red ver­sion.

The fin­ish on the leather, and the fi­nal top coat, is a big fac­tor in the way a ball be­haves in the air. With a red ball, once the top coat of shiny shel­lac or lac­quer wears off, there is no bar­rier to the grain sur­face of the dyed leather, and so pol­ish­ing can com­mence, with a crick­eter rub­bing the ball on his or her trousers. The nat­u­ral fats of the skin come through the leather, and the heat caused by fric­tion cre­ates shine. In the case of Dukes’ red, ad­di­tional grease has been ap­plied to the ball, which aids shine fur­ther.

With the pink Dukes (and sim­i­larly, the pink Kook­aburra) the need for bright pig­ment to be sprayed onto the sur­face of the dyed leather, means those nat­u­ral fats never come up through the ball be­cause the pig­ment cre­ates a bar­rier. Ja­jo­dia doesn’t dodge this is­sue, yet he be­lieves Dukes have come up with a fin­ish and pol­ish that partly com­pen­sates for this, and will en­able the ball to be ‘looked af­ter’ by bowlers.

Ja­jo­dia be­lieves his method of push­ing the pig­ment into the fol­li­cles of the skin will help the ball re­tain its colour

“We’ve de­vel­oped our own pol­ishes and fin­ishes. It’s not the straight­for­ward shel­lac that we put on our red ball. We’ve had to ap­ply our own top coat, which is a bit of a hy­brid. It will wear off. It’s not go­ing to stay there for­ever and be very re­silient, but on the other hand, it will pro­tect the sur­face.

“My advice to the bowlers is just leave one side to­tally alone and work on the other side, like a red ball, and hope­fully it will do what you want it to do, al­though not in any ex­ag­ger­ated way. I think it will be fine.”

While Ja­jo­dia re­mains tight-lipped about where the leather for his pink ball is be­ing tanned and dyed, and what he calls their “se­cret for­mu­las” for the fin­ish and pol­ish, the big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween the pink Dukes and pink Kook­aburra still ap­pears to be the hand­made el­e­ment of the Dukes. The four quar­ters of the ball, to­gether with the seams (black thread for the pink ball) are all hand-stitched at the Grays of Cam­bridge factory in Sialkot, Pak­istan – the same work­ers who pro­duce the red Dukes – mean­ing the pink Dukes re­tains the pro­nounced seam so fa­mil­iar to James An­der­son and Co. Kook­aburra hand stitch their clos­ing seam, but the outer seams are done by ma­chine, which leads to a slightly flat­ter ‘rud­der’ over­all.

Ja­jo­dia will be at Edg­bas­ton to mon­i­tor how his pink Dukes per­forms. Of course many other fac­tors will in­flu­ence the way the ball be­haves, such as the over­head con­di­tions, the pitch con­di­tions, and not least, the bowlers’ skill. A suc­cess­ful day/night Test, though, will not only be judged on the bal­ance be­tween bat and ball, but on how many peo­ple at­tend and watch a match, which is de­signed to make the game more ac­ces­si­ble, by stretch­ing into the evening hours, be­yond the nor­mal work­ing day.

Magic man: Dilip Ja­jo­dia at the Dukes’ factory

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Pretty in pink: The pink Dukes ball ahead of the first Test at Edg­bas­ton. In­set: Ben Stokes and James An­der­son in­spect the pink ball

Pace­set­ter: The pink Kook­aburra ball that has been used Down Un­der

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