Ricky Ponting is “convinced” the ball that was changed late on Day 4 of Australia’s fifth Ashes Test against England in late July was swapped for one that was made five years prior.
Chasing down 384 for an epic win, Australia gave themselves every chance of rewriting the history books when David Warner and Usman Khawaja finished the penultimate day 0-135 on what looked like a docile wicket with little sideways movement in the air and off the pitch.
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And they had little trouble getting to that position, until a ball that hit Usman Khawaja on the head near the close of the fourth day’s play changed the complexion of the entire match.
England players immediately reported a change in the ball’s shape after it had cannoned into Khawaja’s helmet, and the umpires duly called for the box of used reserve Dukes.
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But what they settled on as the replacement was a ball that looked significantly newer than the one that was taken out of the game, which Ponting, who was in commentary at the time, noticed immediately.
“It certainly looks a lot newer than the one they changed from,” Ponting said on Sky Sports in the moment.
“Look at how much writing is on the side of that ball. That is a huge contrast to the conditions to the two Dukes balls.”
Ricky Ponting noticed the changed ball was newer straight away. Credit: Sky Sports/Nine/Getty
The Aussies navigated their way through the final 11 balls of the day unscathed with the newer ball, but collapsed on Day 5 in starkly different batting conditions to lose the Test and finish the series 2-2.
Speaking on SEN radio on Wednesday, Ponting recalled his account of the bizarre episode.
“They bring this box of balls out, and the overhead camera was zooming in on the box, and I could see there were a lot of new balls in there with gold embossing all over them, and a few older ones,” the former Australian captain said.
“And then the umpire takes the ball out and has a look at it and throws it to the fielders, and ‘Tubby’ (Mark Taylor) and I were looking at each other and going, ‘This is not right, there’s no way in the world that’s the most similar ball to what’s in that box’.
“Anyway, they started with it, Usman faced the first ball, it hit his bat, he went to the umpire and said, ‘That is the hardest cricket ball I’ve faced in this whole series’. Usman’s opened the batting in every innings in the entire Test series, the first ball hits his bat and he says, ‘No, that’s different’.”
If that ball was the best option, Ponting said, then umpires Joel Wilson and Kumar Dharmasena should have taken it upon themselves to alter its condition before handing it to England.
“The umpires were convinced that that ball was the closest one, condition-wise, to what was in the box,” Ponting went on.
“But what you can actually do at that stage, you’re actually allowed to change the (condition); it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can take that ball out, rub it on the pitches and actually change the condition of it to get it more like the one that it’s just been swapped from.”
Usman Khawaja was hit on the helmet by England fast bowler Mark Wood, resulting in a controversial ball change. Credit: Getty Images
The cricket legend was audibly animated at the time, but said on Wednesday that he held himself back from going much harder.
“I got my back up, big time, and I couldn’t go too hard there and then — it would have looked like the whinging Aussies sort of thing,” Ponting said.
“I demanded an investigation into what actually happened, how it could actually happen that there weren’t the right conditioned balls in the box in the first place.”
And with the dust settled on the controversial incident that marred the ending to an enthralling Ashes series, Ponting is certain of a stunning theory about the ball change.
“I’m convinced that it wasn’t the same new ball that they changed to. I’m convinced … (it was) a different batch of balls,” he added.
“Those particular balls, a different batch is made every year, and on the side, there’s a little stamp in the leather on the side of the ball, which is what year that ball (was made).
“Right the way through the series, the boys had been using the 2023 ball. But I know for a fact that both teams had been training with 2018 balls, and the 2018 ball was the one that England have liked using since it was produced because it was a slightly different shape, it had a bigger seam, and it aided (Stuart) Broad and (James) Anderson and those guys — they wanted to use that ball forever.
“The Aussies were training with them because they wanted to train harder, play easy. I took my son to Lord’s for two of the training days and Davey Warner brought the 2018 ball over and brought the 2023 ball over and showed me the difference.
“And when you look at the data on how much swing and seam there was on Day 5 — Day 5, remember, of a Test match, where the wickets generally do the least — the data almost matched up exactly the same to what happened in (the) 2019 (Ashes series).”
The ball was changed in controversial circumstances during the fifth and finals Ashes Test. Credit: Getty/Sky Sports
SEN host Garry Lyon was stunned by Ponting’s assertion.
“Fascinating. That is one of the great stories that hadn’t been told,” Lyon said.
Ponting finally added: “The ball manufacturer (Dukes) said they were doing their own investigations into it — don’t know what the outcome is.
“Someone’s got the ball as well — Stuart Broad would have the ball on his mantlepiece because it was his last game, he got the last wicket. The ball would be sitting up on his mantlepiece somewhere, I’d love to have a look at that ball.
“I might be completely wrong, but all the data adds up. And even listening to what the players said, with Usman talking about how it hit his bat, what the bowlers and fielders were saying about the shape of the ball, what the coaches told me about the shape of the ball — it all adds up to being something not quite right.”
The claim that a 2018 or 2019 ball could be used was rejected as ‘ludicrous’ in August but, as noted by Ponting, no findings have yet been made public.
Ricky Ponting has an interesting theory on the incident. Credit: Visionhaus/Visionhaus/Getty Images
Ponting also revealed a conversation he had with one of England’s coaches that proved the hosts knew they had caught a break of luck with the change of balls.
“(The newer ball) did a little bit that night, but when we turned up for Day 5 — and I did the pre-game (broadcast) for Day 5 — and it was overcast and cloudy, and you know if it’s like that anywhere in the UK and you’ve got the right condition ball, then it’s going to swing,” he said.
“And even though Australia were 0-145 turning up, the one thing I said was, ‘England have got a new ball, I know for a fact they like the shape of the ball’, because I’d spoken to one of their coaches that morning; they said, ‘No matter what happens today, regardless of what happens with this ball, we are not going to get it changed’. So, they knew that they’d stumbled across a little piece of gold.
“Alex Carey was out I think in the 95th over, and that ball hadn’t been changed, they kept that ball. He got out to one that swung that far — Broad around the wicket, it swung a foot and a half away, and he nicked it to the keeper.
“Some unusual events occurred once that ball was changed, that’s for sure.”
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