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The Indian behind the swing, seam and spin that left India short at Edgbaston

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Dilip Jajodia, 73, owns the Dukes brand, which is behind the ball credited for the cracking Test match between India and England at Edgbaston.

Bengaluru: Something unusual, yet repeatable, unique yet desirable, unbeckoned yet measurable happened when India lost a thrilling Test match to England in Edgbaston.

At a time when the balance between bat and ball is almost unknown — every home team stacks the deck in its favour — all results were possible till the last few overs were bowled.

In the midst of an unusually warm English summer, the Birmingham pitch was not dry or cracking up. The water table was high enough.

But this wasn’t why the Test allowed two teams to compete till the last ball was bowled. Rather, it was the ball that did it.

In England, the Dukes is favoured, in Australia, Kookaburra, in India, SG Test. Yet, here was a ball that swung under cloud cover and in the sunshine, gripped enough off the surface for a skillful spinner in R. Ashwin to get Alastair Cook early in each innings, and allowed Adil Rashid to wrap things up.

Cottonian from Bengaluru

What’s so special about this ball?

To start with, the man who makes them.

Dilip Jajodia is a curmudgeonly young 73-year-old who left India’s once great shores to make a life for himself in England in 1962. He manufactured cricket equipment for his Morrant Company. When the opportunity to buy the Dukes brand — established 1760 — came, he took it. The rest is cricket ball history.

Meeting Jajodia is easier said than done. When your reporter arrived at his Walthamstow factory in an unfashionable part of East London, a worker quickly slammed the door.

There is no board identifying a major cricket-ball producer in the world, no reception desk that will take a number and get back to you.

Though established in 1760, the Dukes brand now works out of a nondescript building in East London | Anand Vasu

Fortuitously, the skipper was on deck, and he may have recognised a familiar accent. When he interrogated your correspondent, door barely ajar, he entertained a disruption to the person who lived a stone’s throw away from his school, Bishop Cotton, in faraway Bengaluru.

Also read: Virat Kohli’s 149 was remarkable because he overcame himself for a greater cause

Once in, Dilip bhai could not help himself. A contemporary of Brijesh Patel, a legend in Ranji Trophy cricket and an India batsman, Jajodia tells it as it was.

“It was on St Peter’s Day, 29 June, during the traditional game against the Old Boys on the Cottons ground, when I was stood at stupid silly-point. The batsman said ‘son you better move back’ but the captain insisted on me staying. He whacked it next ball and it smashed into my mouth and the next thing I remember I was in the hospital. I lost my edge from that day onwards.”

Jajodia, a contemporary of Ranji legend Brijesh Patel, says his fledgeling cricketing career was cut short by an injury in school cricket | Anand Vasu

Jajodia the all-rounder did not cut all ties with cricket, though. When he moved to England, the leg-guards, or pads, his company manufactured were a major improvement on what existed. Sunil Gavaskar used those pads and eventually passed them on to Sachin Tendulkar. But, now, Jajodia is known as the ball man of England cricket. He personally chooses the 12 balls that will be made available to the teams during each Test in England.

A unique stitch

“It takes three-and-a-half man hours for one single ball to be made. And then, when I look at it, feel it, see the stitching of the seam, I know which person has done the job,” says Jajodia. “Like handwriting, each person’s stitch is unique.

“People will pay a thousand pounds for a bat, but they want a ball for five pounds. I can pay someone in Pakistan or India to make a ball for 7 pounds and sell it here for 10. But, just because it’s round and red, it’s not a cricket ball.”

At the Walthamstow outfit, Jajodia is more than the master of all he surveys. He picks up a finished ball, holds it in his palm, rolls it around and rejects it. Irfan, the super-skilled worker who has done all that hard work on the sphere, doesn’t bat an eyelid. The ball is weighed on an electronic scale and it falls short by two grams.

Like handwriting, each person’s stitch is unique, says Jajodia of his workers | Anand Vasu

This is the problem and the solution.

Jajodia can tell when he holds a cricket ball, whether it feels right or not. In a grey-blue jumper and serious spectacles, Jajodia looks more like an insurance salesman than a nutty professor in a cricket laboratory. But, so sure is he of his processes that it is impossible to question him effectively.

“This is the traditional English Alumtine finish that is also what they do in India. India has alumtine leather. This is cow leather and we put grease into it, he explains, holding up a ball that is a picture of perfection. “Grease waterproofs the ball. When it’s a darker shade it does more, because it means the leather has taken more grease.”

A case for it to be widely used

James Anderson, one of the pre-eminent swing bowlers of the modern era, swears that the darker the ball, the more it swings and longer. But, that’s not all. From Mike Atherton to Kumar Sangakkara, leading cricket intellectuals have pushed for the Dukes ball to be used more widely.

Already, Ricky Ponting, who has been sponsored by Kookaburra through his career, has advocated the use of the Dukes ball in Australian domestic cricket.

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There have been times when a cricket club or a board has come to Jajodia and told him there was something they did not like about his ball. “It doesn’t matter. This is the best cricket ball in the world. If you want it, we’re happy to sell it to you. But we aren’t changing anything.”

At 162 g, this ball is within weight norms. As per laws, the ball can’t weigh less than 155.9 g and over 163 g | Anand Vasu

When Jajodia has had enough, your correspondent asked him to part with a ball that was deemed unworthy and kept in his rejects section.

“No ball leaves this building unless I approve it,” said Jajodia. “Take this one, it will swing, even in Bangalore.”

If Jimmy Anderson trusts Jajodia to choose his Test-match balls, how can anyone ask questions of the supplier? Especially when he is a Bangalore Cottonian.

The Dukes ball, many believe, allowed for the even contest at Edgbaston. From Mike Atherton, Kumar Sangakkara to Ricky Ponting, leading cricketers have pushed for the Dukes ball to be used more widely. | Anand Vasu

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