Light to the foot

Light to the foot

The Jabulani, this year’s official ball for the Fifa World Cup, makes every kind of volley, kick and pass delightful

Jabulani means “to celebrate" in Zulu, one of the 11 official languages of South Africa—but taking the 2010 World Cup ball out for some kicking about in the middle of a Delhi summer day is the exact opposite of a celebration. To add to the misery, this wasn’t even the actual World Cup ball—just a replica sold by Adidas, which looks like the Jabulani.

But this was no multi-panelled wonder (a normal football has 36 hexagonal panels, the Jabulani has eight), no raised grooves on the surface of the ball for added grip like the actual ball, and no claims of being the the most accurate ball ever made.

But the moment we got our first touch of the ball, we forgot about everything else. If this is how the good replicas are these days, you don’t really need the original. It was light, but not as light as the 2002 World Cup ball (the Fevernova), which used to take off like a rocket at the slightest provocation.

The weight of the Jabulani replique is perfectly balanced, so we didn’t have to waste any time trying to adapt to it. We volleyed it, passed it along the ground, played long passes and short passes, took hard shots, and curving “banana kicks"—and each time the ball responded perfectly. It stayed on target (which means the shape of the ball is good), had just the right amount of lift off the ground, and covered the intended distances. Hit it in the right spot, and you can get a nice curved flight path too.

On the feet, the ball has a great grip. Despite the absence of the grooved surface (the most radical change made in the original Jabulani), it was ridiculously easy to control, and while receiving a pass, you didn’t have to work too hard to keep it from bouncing off your foot. Considering this was just a replica, it’s obvious that the quality of even standard balls has gone through the roof.

But there’s always a lot of hype before every World Cup about the advanced technologies used to make the balls for the tournament; and how they are getting better and better (hence Adidas’ claim that the Jabulani is the most accurate ball ever made). But Pele was at his peak in the 1950s and 1960s, and the world hasn’t seen a more accurate striker of the ball. Maradona’s ball control skills have not been matched since the 1980s. Beckham’s set-pieces were as accurate in the early 1990s as they were in the 2002 World Cup. A player like Lionel Messi, who dazzles us every weekend for Barcelona with his ball skills, plays with a different ball in different tournaments, but still delivers the same goods.

The Adidas Jabulani replique ball costs Rs1,499.

Rudraneil Sengupta