Before the 2021/22 iteration of the ISL kicked off, it was announced that the NIVIA Ashtang ball that had been in use for three seasons of the ISL would be replaced with a new ball, NIVIA Astra. Moreover, resonating with the meaning of the word Astra in itself, i.e., a weapon, since the inception of Astra, the 2021/22 season of the ISL has seen some wondrous goals; goals that will simply set the seal on the adjectives that the English language can ever provide.
Whilst these goals have certainly entertained the crowd supporting the sport, it has also made a cut of the public wonder how and why the number of goals from this season is towering the records from the previous seasons. As it stands currently, the 2021/22 ISL season sees an average of over three goals per game. To name a few, Greg Stewart’s and Naorem Roshan Singh’s sublime freekicks against Kerala Blasters, Liston Colaco’s curlers against Chennaiyin FC, SC East Bengal, and Kerala Blasters, Adrián Luna’s and Ahmed Jahouh’s screaming long rangers against FC Goa and Odisha FC, respectively, were some of the bests from this season. Several numbers of volley have been executed with absolute perfection from players like Sahal Abdul Samad, Kiyan Nassiri, Álvaro Vázquez, etcetera, as well.
IFTWC secured an exclusive chance to converse with a spokesperson of NIVIA regarding the intricate changes and the nuances that Astra, and generally the new balls they introduced in the ISL, has brought about.
Some of the visible changes in the ball are the execution of the 8-panel structure in lieu of the conventional 32-panel structure. This has clinically reduced the seam length by 23%. On why this factor is essential, NIVIA said, “When you reduce the number of panels, you’re essentially reducing the seam area, i.e., the stitching area. This helps the players get a sweeter spot for kicking and heading the ball, i.e., the area without the stitches is more. In contribution to this, with less stitching involved in the ball, the water uptake of the ball in wet conditions is less. This helps the ball carry its true weight through the entirety of a match.
“Thirdly, with lesser seam area, the drag force, i.e., the force of the air acting against the direction in which the ball is moving, is lesser,” explaining Liston Colaco’s goal recording a speed of 181 km/h.
“Besides this, we improved the ball’s quality from the surface point of view. The finish of the leather coating has been tweaked, i.e., the outer layer of the ball has been given a little bit of a different treatment, which is why the ball is shinier, and it adds a bit of a slippery texture as well. We believe, perhaps, this is what’s bringing about the drag and the speed effect, contributing to all those beautiful goals. Bad news for the goalkeepers, but at the end, we are witnessing a lot of goals,” said NIVIA. Supporting the said statement, NIVIA has stated this specification in their official website, which goes like, ‘PU micro-fibre leather offers good elasticity, low-temperature resistance and a true feel to touch while retaining the shape better during play.’
Resonating to the slippery nature of the ball, IFTWC was able to get in touch with one of the goalkeepers inside the bio-bubble. He said, “The new ball is slippery. It slips more than the previous one we had for the league.”
NIVIA also claimed to estimate that these changes could be the reasons for the Magnus Effect that the audience is observing; which has to do with the rotations per minute of the ball, “The movement of the ball is much truer presently, with the slight changes we could bring about in it. The path it follows is much in line with how the great players like the ones we currently have in the ISL intend to kick it. It only changes once the ball starts to slow down towards the end of its course in the air.”
Clubbing the concepts of the Magnus Effect and the changes in the drag force that is brought about with the new finish that the ball has received, we can safely construe that with the initial punch the balls receive, the balls tend to stay in a predictable path. However, with the decrement in the speed towards the end of its course in the air, the balls start to change their direction. This is precisely why goalkeepers find it hard to judge the ball’s path with long-range shots.
To top it off, NIVIA said, “The said scientific reasons are the main contributors to the goals we see. We do believe that the ball is magical. Moreover, it just so happens that we have got some fantastic players right now; we believe it is because of the talent that these great players currently featuring in the ISL have brought into the show.”
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