Kookaburra Sport sings loud and proud throughout the heat of every Australian cricket summer.
But in an Ashes Test Series year, the company’s cutting-edge red, pink and white cricket balls take on extra importance as they are bowled, hit and caught in front of millions of eyeballs.
“This is our jam in cricket,” Kookaburra Sport General Manager – GTM David Orchard says.
“It’s our time to shine on the big stage with the No.1 ball in cricket.
“The Ashes is arguably one of the biggest rivalries in sport and it’s certainly the biggest rivalry in cricket. It has a rich history that started with the first test in 1877. To win an Ashes series on home soil with the Kookaburra ball is very special to everyone here.”
It is this enduring — and expanding — appreciation for the sport which motivates the Australian family-owned business to embrace innovation and inclusivity.
Exciting developments are planned for 2022.
“We’re investing in a brand-new cricket equipment line which we will launch next year that has been built and informed by our women’s ambassador and consumer base, and we are very excited to deliver this to market,” Mr Orchard said.
“There will be a comprehensive equipment line that has been built with women in mind, but we also understand that there are men out there with a leaner build who have smaller hands and thinner legs as well that can use these products.
“This new range will also be perfect for juniors getting into the game with a slimmer fit, regardless of whether they’re male or female.”
Making it easier for girls to play the game is something Kookaburra is passionate about.
“Cricket has traditionally been very much a male-dominated game but it’s great to see that evening out, and we’re seeing more girls playing the game and seeing more females taking it up at the elite level,” Mr Orchard said.
“We invest pretty heavily in women’s cricket, with our Brand Ambassadors like Alyssa Healy, Rachael Haynes and Tayla Vlaeminck. We’ve got a fairly extensive list of female players of all playing abilities that we sponsor.
“We have also put quite an investment into women's cricket in partnership with Toyota. Through this initiative, we donated kits to 100 clubs last year to help develop women’s cricket and girls in playing cricket so it’s not only about providing products, it’s about providing access for girls to play the game as well. It’s something that we’re very passionate about.
“The landscape for women in sport has fundamentally changed with media rights and professional access at the elite level, and this is driving a lot of what we are seeing with participation rates and access to cricket for young females. This is incredible for our sport, and we would like to see this continue to grow.”
Kookaburra, established 131 years ago by AG Thompson, is Cricket Australia’s chosen supplier of balls for the Ashes series Down Under.
Fourth and fifth generation members of the Thompson family work at Head Office in Melbourne. With offices in India, New Zealand, the UK and South Africa, Kookaburra employs more than 200 people globally.
“We proudly produce the balls you will see used in the Ashes series this year in Australia,” Mr Orchard said.
“They go through a rigorous quality control process to make sure every ball used is absolutely perfect and it makes our production staff immensely proud to see the Kookaburra Turf ball delivering so much happiness over the summer.”
Still manufactured in Australia, Kookaburra cricket balls are also used in Test matches in New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.
“No other brand does it the way that we do,” Mr Orchard said.
“We have an incredibly unique and technical process that goes into building the perfect Kookaburra Turf ball and it involves five layers from the cork nucleus to the leather finish and a host of processes that go into making the perfect ball.
“All of those things are quite different to what our competitors do, and I think that’s probably given us our competitive advantage, and the fact we manufacture locally is keeping people and jobs in Australia of which we are incredibly proud.
“One of the keys to the success of the ball has been our philosophy and commitment to delivering the perfect balance between bat and ball.
“There’s something in it for the seamers early. Our ball allows the batsmen to play into their innings and there is also something in it for the spinners as the ball and the pitch gets a little bit older.”
Adding to Kookaburra’s rich history is its partnership with supplier Brisbane-based Packer Leather, another Ai Group member.
Like Kookaburra, Packer is an internationally recognised fifth-generation, family-owned business.
Packer Managing Director Lindsay Packer said it was a good working relationship.
“We help them technically in areas where they like some help, but we’re just the supplier,” Mr Packer said.
“We make the leather; we don’t claim any more.
“Often the big brands don’t want to associate their suppliers to their products, but it’s not like that with Kookaburra. It’s been a very good partnership.
“Kookaburra are one year older than us. It’s 1890 for Kookaburra and 1891 for us. It’s like things coming home. It’s been good.”
Complementing Kookaburra’s history is its focus on innovation.
As well as cricketwear and equipment, Kookaburra also makes hockey, football and athletics gear.
“Innovation has always been at the core of what we do and our investment is industry-leading,” Kookaburra's Mr Orchard said.
“We have partnered with Sportcor to produce a smartball that will revolutionise the way ball behaviour is recorded. The ball can record speed and spin from release, pre-bounce and post-bounce.
“They can see how fast they’ve bowled the ball accurately and what the revolutions look like on that ball which will be a fantastic tool for high performance coaches, broadcasters and eventually for young cricketers using the ball to compete with their mates in the nets.
“We debuted this ball in the Caribbean Premier League this year and we got a lot of positive data out of that. It’s for the elite level at the moment — for broadcasting and to provide accurate data coming off the ball. We’ve got plans to take that further.
“We have also been doing some work with Blind Bats to assist the visually impaired to play the game they love, and we have partnered with Stancebeam to measure real time the biomechanics of a batsman’s swing.
“Continuous improvement through R&D is part of what we do and there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes to give consumers what they need not only from a ball, but their total cricket experience with Kookaburra.”
Kookaburra Sport has been a member of Ai Group for 90 years.
“As an Australian-owned and operated business with dependence on local manufacturing at our core, we have grown alongside Ai Group seeking advice and support that we could always rely on to make informed decisions in our business. The membership support services have helped Kookaburra enormously over the years and in particular the HR resource centre, access to government networks, including economic insights to support our employees and organisation have been incredibly valuable.” – David Orchard, General Manager – GTM
Wendy Larter is the Senior Content Writer at Ai Group. She is a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.