After several fruitless Ashes trips through the 2000s and 2010s, Cricket Australia introduced the Dukes ball in Sheffield Shield in an attempt to better prepare players for the mysteries that awaited in the UK.
The move away from Kookaburra for half of the season, conceived by former performance manager Pat Howard, was not universally popular, but even the toughest critics of the idea would admit that it was at least a small factor in Australia’s improved performance during the Ashes tour in 2019.
It was not a series win, but a 2-2 draw was a big improvement over previous attempts to win in 2015 (3-2 to England, although the series was won by the hosts with a test to spare), 2013 (3- 0) England) and 2009 (2-1 England).
Now that Joe Root’s men have fallen to their third Ashes tour defeat in a row in a humiliating battle game the third morning, former Australian captain Ricky Ponting believes it’s time for the shoe to be put on the other foot.
Australia’s leading test scorer ever believes the current group of tourists make up the worst English team he has looked down under.
“I do not think I have seen a worse performing team in Australia than what I have seen in the last three matches,” Ponting told cricket.com.au.
He is not the first to call for a change in England’s domestic program.
Questions about when to play four-day cricket, the standard of pitches, an interruption between counties and the national governing body, as well as the balance between multiple card format tournaments have been identified as barriers to producing test-ready cricketers.
David Warner has even suggested that England’s batsmen should practice more on synthetic wickets during training to prepare for the extra jump in Australia.
But Ponting believes the introduction of the Kookaburra ball in county cricket, combined with a greater focus on preparing pitches similar to those used for testing, could be a useful first step.
“We’ve been through this in Australia,” Ponting said. “You turn back time a few years ago when we had our matches in England, we changed conditions, we changed the ball, we changed everything because we were poor under those conditions.
“England may need to look at how they can make their relationship more appropriate to ours.
“They still play well in England, but they do not play well when they come here – so maybe they play more with the Kookaburra ball.
“Maybe they flatten the wickets a little bit so that there are not so many turns and nails, so that the batters make bigger scores and strike for longer periods.
“It may be exactly the same blip that (Australia) may have had three or four years ago.”
Ponting said the quality of England’s batting is of particular concern.
Joe Root has piled on 1,708 races in 61 over the last 12 months – the third most scored races in a calendar year in test history – but their skipper aside, England have had an abysmal year with the bat.
Only Dawid Malan (308 runs at 34.22 this year) has averaged more than 30 in 2021 with the likes of Zac Crawley (173 runs at 10.81), Haseeb Hameed (205 runs at 18.85) and Ollie Pope ( 368 runs at 21.64) before and during the ongoing Ashes series.
Even Ben Stokes (304 races at 21.71) has had a hard time.
Ponting stressed that it is becoming a too well-known script after winless series in 2013-14 (5-0 Australia) and 2017-18 (4-0).
“Some of the English top-order batters that I’ve seen in the last couple of tournaments, without disclosing names, there are some techniques out there that I just know will not stay at test level,” he said.
“Under challenging conditions and world-class bowlers up against sub-standard techniques, you get what happened today (at MCG).
“The little swing-dibbly doubles that get them out there (in county cricket), they don’t face it at the test level.
“They face guys who can actually bowl.
“From what I’ve seen with their batting, they are simply not good enough.”