At 9 am India time today, cricket will boldly go where few imagined it ever would. BHARAT SUNDARESAN explains how a Test under lights with a pink ball will change the 138-year-old game
Even as they experimented incessantly with the shorter formats, cricket’s powers that be have traditionally treated Test matches as sacrosanct. But the dwindling audiences at the longest version — linked by most administrators of the game to fans’ busier daily schedules — could not be wished away. Extending playing hours past sunset is aimed primarily at getting more people to the ground — an idea that was pushed by Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland for over 7 years before it got the ICC’s nod this July. Tests under floodlights is also seen as a lucrative model for TV. As for millions of Indian fans, there’ll be no need to wake up early to catch the action from Down Under.
Have cricketers in whites played under lights before?
Technically, yes. Floodlights are used whenever the light’s not deemed good enough, and the two teams have a pre-match understanding. Australia has had day-nighters in its domestic Sheffield Shield competition since the 2013-14 season. In the build-up to the watershed Test against Australia in Adelaide, New Zealand have played two practice matches under lights with the pink ball. Back in 1997, BCCI scheduled the Ranji Trophy final between Mumbai and Delhi under lights with a white ball in Gwalior, but benched the idea thereafter.
How will the new timings impact playing conditions?
Tea will be the first break, and will be taken at 4 pm, two hours after play begins in Adelaide. Then will come the supper break at 6.20 pm, and the last session will be played from 7-9 pm. All those with 9-5 jobs can watch about two sessions at the stadium.
A pink Kookaburra ball will be used. Why pink?
The colour of the ball has been debated ever since the idea of Tests under lights came up. The red was too dark for lights, which is one of the reasons white balls were used in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, which produced the game’s first nocturnal avatar. But white balls get discoloured too soon, and have no chance of lasting 80 overs, the minimum that is needed to be bowled before a change. After plenty of tests, the bright pink one emerged as the best alternative.
How has the pink-ball experiment gone so far?
Chris Rogers, the recently retired Australian opener who suffered from colour-blindness, isn’t the only batsman to have had issues with visibility. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have complained it is difficult to spot while fielding near the fence, and wondered how spectators would see the ball once it loses its rosy sheen. Some have noted that the pink ball goes softer sooner than the red, and will make bowlers’ lives even more difficult and could lead to slow scoring. There are apprehensions on whether the pink would be picked up clearly by ball-tracking technology. Staff at the Adelaide Oval have tried to ensure the pitch and outfield stay lush so the ball doesn’t deteriorate too quickly. The stats aren’t good: only 11% of Australian domestic cricketers who have played with pink think it’s a success.
But aren’t day-night Tests with pink balls revolutionary?
Cricket circles have been debating whether it isn’t just another step in the evolution of Test cricket, which, over the years, has seen many changes. The number of days was fixed at five in 1948 — some countries had 6-day Tests and a few Timeless Tests too — and an over once had only four balls. Pitches used to be uncovered, and bouncer and lbw laws have undergone changes. Pink and lights are unlikely to become a trend anytime soon, even though New Zealand have proposed to host Bangladesh under lights next year.
How can playing tactics and strategies change?
For starters, fast bowlers might be utilised more with the older ball because of the swing that will be on offer under lights — which means we could see spinners come on sooner in the match, if not actually operate with the new ball. There is also the issue of slightly lesser visibility during the twilight period — which, however, is the case even in ODI games just around the time the chase begins, especially outside the subcontinent where the sun sets later. Some cricketes, including Adam Voges who will play in Adelaide, have wondered whether there will be a call for day-night Test statistics to be separated from the traditional numbers, given the different circumstances of play.
And how will the spectator’s experience change?
The big hope, of course, is that changed timings will allow more spectators to watch the game at the ground. But a Test under lights will still be a Test, and people won’t magically start seeing fours and sixes like in a T20. There will still be periods in which batsmen and bowlers will be embroiled in bitter battles of attrition, with thought only of survival. Such times will not be exciting for those seeking bang for their buck. You will still need to be a Test cricket fan to enjoy those periods, regardless of the colour of the ball or the time of day.