Why pink to begin with? Why is India late to the party? And is the pink ball better equipped to push the game towards a result?
India will play its first pink-ball, day-night Test match against Bangladesh at Eden Gardens on Friday (November 22).
There have been some concerns over the possibility of the pink ball negating the key strengths of the Indian bowling attack, especially in home conditions, viz., reverse swing and spin — this, in fact, has long been a reason for the BCCI’s reluctance to take the plunge into day-night Tests.
The Indian Board did not agree to play the Adelaide Test on the 2018-19 tour of Australia as a day-nighter because the team preferred to face the known red devil rather than an unpredictable and experimental ball and format at one of India’s few happy hunting grounds Down Under.
Also, Australia’s record with the pink ball — victories in all five Tests they’ve played — may have been a factor. (At that time Australia’s record was 4 out of 4; subsequently it beat Sri Lanka by an innings and 40 runs at a day-nighter at the Gabba in January this year.)
India had earlier experimented with the pink ball during a Duleep Trophy game in 2016, but the BCCI had not thereafter accepted suggestions from several former Indian cricketers, including Sourav Ganguly, to organise more such games.
Ganguly is now the president of BCCI, and the first pink-ball Test is being held in his home ground in Kolkata.
But to begin with, why the colour pink for a cricket ball?
Pink was the consensus colour after ball makers tried optic yellow and bright orange, which were easy to spot on the grass, and by fielders taking high catches. Batsmen, however, complained that these colours tended to merge with the brownish patches on the pitch.
Ball maker Kookaburra started with a dark green seam on the ball, but switched to white and ultimately to black after Steve Smith, the former Australia captain and one of the contemporary greats of the international game, said the seam needed to be more visible.
Smith led Australia against New Zealand in the first-ever pink ball Test, which was played in Adelaide in November 2015. Australia won by 3 wickets.
But are pink balls made differently from red or white ones?
Not really. Red, white, pink — all cricket balls are made of cork, rubber and woollen yarn, using similar production techniques. The colour of the dye on the tanned cowhide, and the difference in ‘finishing’ decide in which format a ball is used.
The conventional red Test cricket ball is dipped in grease so that water doesn’t seep into the leather. But this cannot be done with the Day/Night Test pink ball since grease would dull the fluorescent pink, affecting the visibility of the ball under lights.
The D/N ball also gets a pigment finish, and is sprayed with a thick coat of pink colour so that it sparkles for long, making it easy for fielders, batsmen, fans in the stands, and those watching the game on television to spot.
But this emphasis on maintaining the pinkness of the ball also slows its aging, which takes away from the intrigue of a Test match.
Also, there is some concern in the Indian camp ahead of the Eden Test that the extra coating of lacquer on the ball — which enables it to retain its colour over the course of the match — ends up with making the ball appear more orange than pink under floodlights.
Does this mean pink is merely a white ball in disguise?
Yes and no. Like the white ball used in the shorter versions, pink too, does go flat.
It is lighter than red, and swings more in the initial overs. It also shows 20% more seam moment.
However, once the ball is softer, the swing disappears. With no real weathering or fading of the leather, pacers find it difficult to get reverse swing, and spinners complain of lack of turn. This often results in long periods of boring play.
More importantly for India, if the old ball does not reverse, the advantage of the Indian pace attack of Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will be significantly blunted. (Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar are not in the current squad.)
But what is the point of playing a Test match in the evening?
The idea emerged in the late 2000s, when there was concern over the dwindling viewership for Test matches.
It was argued that holding One Dayers and T20s in the evenings had brought more people to the grounds and in front of TVs, so the same might work for Tests as well — especially because there was no way of avoiding at least a part of a Test match being played on weekdays.
The other argument has been that day-night Tests produce results more often than conventional Test matches.
While it is true that all 11 D/N Tests played so far have produced a result, the conditions have had a bigger say in who has dominated.
While bowlers have done well in Australia and New Zealand (where England were shot out for 58 in December 2017), the batting milestones have come elsewhere (such as Azhar Ali’s triple hundred in Dubai in 2016 and Alastair Cook’s 243 in Edgbaston last year).
Asian surfaces have suited spinners — Devendra Bishoo’s 8/49 in Dubai are the best figures with pink — but D/N games in the southern hemisphere have been dominated by pace.
Most D/N Tests have come alive in the twilight period, when the sun hasn’t fully set and the floodlights are partially switched on, the mix of natural and artificial light makes it difficult for batsmen to spot the pink ball, and the falling temperature and moisture in the air suddenly make the ball swing.
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