by Ali Gauhar
Mark Nicholas, the Channel 9 commentator and former Hampshire captain, after the first ever day-night test at Adelaide, wrote that pink ball test cricket looks as pretty as a picture. In my view, he has got it dead right. He also concluded that most importantly “it puts bums on seats too.” For far too long, we’ve seen empty stands in test cricket, the purest form of the game. I never thought I’d live to see such poor attendances in the West Indies, which used to have the most colourful and entertaining crowds.
Something needed to be done. The ICC’s core goal should be to reignite the passion there once was for test cricket. Pink ball day night test cricket is a good start. For one, it adds new dimensions to the game, it’s aesthetically pleasing to spectators and viewers at home, and the ball is clearly visible on television. Above all, fans come to the game because they can. The hours are great, even for working people. It allows spectators to arrive for two sessions, but not asking them to stay all that late.
We have already seen four day night tests, and each one of them have produced enthralling cricket. The best one by far was the latest in Brisbane, when Pakistan fell 40 runs short of Australia’s mammoth 490. Very few gave Pakistan a chance to get close, considering the fact that they were bundled out for 142 in the first innings, and heavily struggled under lights which allowed the ball to duck around profusely. In the 2nd innings however, the Pakistani batsmen looked a lot more assured, and coped competently with the moving ball. This reveals that batsmen can get on top of the bowling under lights if they apply themselves. It creates an even contest, something that cricket, across all formats desperately needs.
Cricket administrators over the last ten years have developed a bad habit of overkill. There is so much T-20 cricket being played that it is becoming tedious, and fast running out of ideas. T-20 cricket, especially the franchise tournaments are starting to remind me of tape ball street cricket. Cricket administrators must be careful not to overkill day-night tests. Yes, it has drawn crowds in, and that is exactly what we are looking for, but I fear if we move towards and all pink-ball series, it too will lose its charm. Moving with the times is extremely important, but we also must realise that there is a reason why many traditions carry on. Most cricketers and administrators understand that traditional red-ball test match cricket cannot go anywhere. The conventional five-day game is still gripping, but pitches need to be got right if the format is to blossom once again.
Another aspect that one must look at is the players’ biorhythm. This occurred to me when I was watching a Pakistani day-night first-class in Rawalpindi. In a day-night test, the day’s play finishes at around 9:30 pm (approximately), which means the players will likely be in bed around mid-night. When they wake up they will probably be exhausted, especially the fast bowlers, who have to start all over again the next day. Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but I feel it may be wise to give it some thought.
Issues with the Pink Ball
“I do like the concept (D/N Tests), I think the ball has improved from last year but I think there is still room for improvement there and I know Kookaburra is working hard on that.”- Nathan Lyon
While the pink ball is still in its nascent stages, a number of concerns have already been highlighted. Mark Nicholas referred to an article written by Alison Mitchell in the Gurardian explaining the differences in the cricket balls.
“The pink ball is finished differently from both the red and white ball. The red ball is aniline-finished, while the white and pink ball is pigment-finished and several coats are sprayed onto the surface. In the case of the pink ball an extra film of bright pink is added – mysteriously referred to by Kookaburra as the G7 finish – in an effort to preserve the colour, before, finally, a spray coat of nitro-cellulose lacquer is applied.”
In the four day-night matches so far, we have seen very swing little after the first few overs. By the 30th over, many players have argued that the ball softens up making life difficult for the bowlers. It is only after 8 pm that the ball starts to hoop around appreciably. In Dubai however, the pink ball wasn’t swinging at all, and that was mainly because of the dew. This tells us that it would be very difficult to play day-night test cricket in the sub-continent and the UAE.
No Reverse Swing
The fact that the pink ball softens up quickly means that it will not easily yield itself to reverse swing. Reverse swing brings life and excitement into the contest. It would be a shame if fast bowlers couldn’t get the pink ball to reverse. It must be said that with the lush outfields in Australia, it would not be easy to reverse swing any ball, unless you are Waqar Younis or Wasim Akram, bowlers who could reverse swing an orange.
It has also been argued that pink balls in day-night cricket could challenge players at sunset. Derek Henry Arnold, an associate professor at the University of Queensland said that people may be able to see the pink ball but that doesn’t mean they can accurately judge its velocity. He argues that during the day, the pink ball is darker than the sky. At night, when stadium lights take full effect, it is brighter than the sky. So at some point, about sunset, it must switch. For a while the pink ball is nearly equal in brightness to the sky. About this time players may have trouble judging the ball’s speed as it moves against the sky.
To enhance his claims, Henry Arnold conducted a reading in a Shield match in Brisbane which suggested that at about sunset the pink ball is nearly equal in brightness to the pitch and the field.
A number of cricketers like Steven Smith have said that he had trouble sighting the pink ball as it gets lost in the background. That is the reason why the ball now has a black seam instead of a white one. We also have to take into account that there are international cricketers that who are colour blind. About 10% of males have a form of colour-blindness, including Australian wicket keeper Mathew Wade. These players may have trouble sighting the pink ball against the grass, but mainly at sunset when brightness differences are reduced.
Looking at this evidence, perhaps the administrators need to take this into consideration, and think about developing a more robust colour which suits everyone.
There is absolutely no doubt that Test cricket needed to be shaken up. For me day-night tests are here to stay. For purists who say that it destroys the sanctity of the game, they should realise that the five day contest has made a number of changes overtime. It is clear day-night tests keep the traditional age-old game pretty much intact. It has by no means destroyed the sanctity of the game, rather is has added new and exciting facets to it. There are serious issues that need to be looked into, and hopefully they will be, but for now we need to be patient and go with the flow.