A member of our forums ponders over the future of day/night Test cricket after a high scoring Test between Pakistan and West Indies where Azhar Ali hit 302*.
By Mansoor Khan (28th October, 2016)
Since the rise of the unstoppable juggernaut known as Twenty20 cricket, the future of Test cricket and its relevance has been subject of fevered debate. The format, outside of Australia and England, has struggled to draw crowds with fears Tests fails to attract a younger generation living in a world of instant gratification that is at odds with the values of the longest format. Some have called for greater context to bilateral series, with this year a controversial system of two tiers of Test cricket mooted. Recently, the ICC proposed plans for Test conferences along the lines of Major League Baseball. One idea has though gained momentum.
On the 29th of October, 2012, the ICC announced new playing conditions that would pave the way for day-night Test cricket. The idea being with play scheduled for evening hours, fans could attend the matches after work. But day-night first class cricket is not a new concept. Australia’s Sheffield Shield experimented with yellow and orange balls in the 1990s. Since then numerous attempts have been made to manufacture a ball that would be: a) visible and b) durable.
Kent batsman Joe Denly after the first ever pink ball county match in 2011 said he “picked the pink ball well from ball one” and he clearly did, given his knock of 69 in that innings. However, others including Australia’s David Warner said that visibility of the pink ball was most difficult at twilight – the period between dusk and darkness, and could not decipher which was the shinier side of the ball, key for a batsman to predict how a ball will swing. Fellow countryman Mitchell Starc has been a vocal critic of the pink ball citing that he “could not see a thing” whilst fielding on the boundary in day night first class matches prior to the inaugural day-night Test in Adelaide between Australia and New Zealand.
One issue that came out after the Adelaide Test was the green thread used to stitch the ball together didn't stand out as clearly as the white stitch used on the red ball. Therefore, the manufacturer, Kookaburra, earlier this year released a new prototype – this time the pink ball would have an all-black seam, including the closing seam which has been usually white.
This ball was put to the test in India’s first ever pink ball experiment at Eden Gardens between club teams Mohun Bagan and Bhowanipore. The visibility issue was markedly improved. Wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha said the ball “glowed like radium” and given the quality of slip catching during the match, fielders didn’t seem to have much problems sighting the ball.
Durability, however, is another matter. The Adelaide Oval laid out a grassy wicket after concerns on a more abrasive wicket - the pink ball would discolour quickly, as evident during a Prime Minister’s XI match against New Zealand at Canberra which served as a dress rehearsal to Australia’s first day night Test. At Eden Gardens, a grassy wicket was also used to improve durability, with the seam remaining intact even after 75 overs according to Aakash Chopra who was part of the Star Sports commentary team. Conversely in Dubai, the pink ball had to be changed after merely three overs in Pakistan's 2nd innings on the 4th day of their first ever day-night Test vs West Indies in Dubai. Only one ball in the duration of the Test lasted 80 overs. So, it must be asked how pink ball Test cricket can be sustainable if wickets must be tampered with in order for the ball to last?
What about the effects on the seamers? The latest pink Kookaburra has extra shine meaning in theory it’ll swing conventionally for longer, but will reverse less. John Hastings after Victoria's opening match of the Sheffield Shield season against Queensland at the MCG last year said the pink ball led to a “boring brand of cricket” and after 15 overs stopped swinging. This is hardly an issue limited to the pink ball, however the prodigious swing under lights during the Adelaide Test was not evident in Dubai barring a few initial overs with the new ball. The ball softened quickly and offered no conventional or reverse swing.
In Asia and the UAE especially, the dew factor is another obstacle in the way of the pink ball’s success. Pakistan fast bowler Wahab Riaz commented: "It is difficult and we are having problems with it, especially under the lights," Wahab said. "In the third session there is a lot of dew and the ball gets wet, the seam gets swollen too. When we bowled with the same ball the next day, the ball was very soft and it doesn't do anything off the pitch.”
The effect of the pink ball on spinners is also to be evaluated. Yasir Shah found in training he gained extra bounce from the pink ball. However, the dew factor and playing at night meant the pitch in Dubai didn’t deteriorate particularly and not a great deal of turn was extracted. But in theory, more shine on the ball means more drift and dip for the spinners, but less turn.
With all this being said, the sample size of pink ball matches is small. The balls are continuing to be refined in response to player feedback. The administrators and television companies are firmly behind the idea to revive a declining format meant to be the pinnacle of the sport. However, the idea that we need separate statistics for pink ball Tests as mooted by various ex-cricketers is absurd. Test cricket has evolved throughout time, from the age of matting wickets and uncovered pitches, from 8 ball overs to 6 ball overs, and will continue to evolve with day night cricket being the next step.
Surely, in a world where we can put a man on the moon – it cannot be beyond the wit of man to produce a durable and visible cricket ball at night!