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From tennis to football, sporting equipment that have sparked debates

ET Bureau|
​Big on Racquet
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​Big on Racquet

Cricket balls are in the news. While English pacer Jofra Archer appeared worried about the “smaller seam” in red Kookaburra balls he would have to bowl in matches against New Zealand, India skipper Virat Kohli said the SG pink ball — being used in the day/night Test match against Bangladesh — felt like a “heavy hockey ball.”

Not just in cricket, sporting equipment have sparked debates among players in many other sports — from tennis to football to athletics.

Brute force today has a bigger role in tennis than in the 1990s, and racquets have a hand in that. That is why Martina Navratilova, an all-time great, has repeatedly called for smaller racquets. “Make the size of the racquet heads for pros smaller and we will see more variety right away,” she tweeted last year. She has also asked for faster courts to encourage players to come to the net instead of playing from the baseline.

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​Corked Bat
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​Corked Bat

In 2003, baseball hitter Sammy Sosa was found using a bat hollowed out to fill cork inside to make it lighter. He was suspended for eight games. Corked bats were supposed to help players swing them faster and hit the ball farther. But a study showed the bat did not help the ball cover a longer distance but did improve the accuracy of the hitters.

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​Whole-body Swimsuit
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​Whole-body Swimsuit

Within a year and a half of the introduction of Speedo’s polyurethane-based whole-body swimsuit in early 2008, more than 130 world records had been broken. This forced the sport’s governing body, in 2010, to ban the suit, said to help with buoyancy and speed. The decision followed threats by star swimmer Michael Phelps to withdraw from competitions if the suit was not outlawed. Ironically, Phelps had donned the suit to set seven world records at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

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​Deflated Ball
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​Deflated Ball

In 2015, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was suspended by US National Football League for four games and his team fined $1 million for conspiring to deflate footballs below the stipulated minimum levels to benefit themselves in a game against the Indianapolis Colts. "A deflated football is said to be easier to grip, especially in the cold and wet conditions that the Patriots faced at home against the Indianapolis Colts,” reported The New York Times.

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​Not Playing Ball
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​Not Playing Ball

The Adidas Jabulani football used in the 2010 FIFA World Cup came under criticism for being lighter than previous balls, harder to control and for being unpredictable in the air. Brazil's goalkeeper Julio Cesar likened the Jabulani — Zulu for “to celebrate”— to a "supermarket ball". Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas said it was like a “beach ball”.

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​Sole Power
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​Sole Power

The world records set by Kenyan marathoners Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei this year reignited a debate about the shoes they wore: the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%, the earlier version of which was launched in 2016. Studies have shown that these shoes help improve marathon timings by 3%. The reason for the advantage is a thicker midsole than earlier shoes, and there have been demands to cap the height of the midsole.

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​Split Sneaker
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​Split Sneaker

Seconds into a crucial basketball game against North Carolina this year, Duke University’s 6-ft-7-inch star Zion Williamson was on the ground with his left Nike sneaker split open. With a knee sprain, he left the court and did not return for the game, which Duke lost 72-88. Nike, which has been the university’s exclusive supplier of shoes since 1992, called it an “isolated occurrence”. Williamson was out of action for a month and returned to play wearing a different pair of Nike shoes.

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​Mongoose Bat
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​Mongoose Bat

Australian opener Matthew Hayden debuted the Mongoose bat at the 2010 edition of the Indian Premier League. With a handle 43% longer and a blade 33% shorter than traditional bats, the Mongoose was meant for big hitting.

It did not catch on because it was not good enough to defend deliveries and so could not be used in Test matches or one-day internationals. There have been other controversies with unconventional bats, including the aluminum bat used by Hayden’s compatriot Dennis Lillee in a 1979 Ashes Test.

(Source: The New York Times, BBC, CNN, MIT Technology Review and other websites)

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