In the middle of all the hype over the country’s first day-night Test in Kolkata, against Bangladesh starting Friday, there is a growing murmur in the Indian camp over the pink ball that will be used. The worry is that the ball might end up negating key strengths of the Indian bowling attack, especially in home conditions: reverse swing and spin.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a senior member of the Indian camp said: “These problems might not become up during the Test against Bangladesh, but it’s important for the future. Is it wise to go into Tests against tough opponents in India without the traditional Indian strengths? That might end up playing into the hands of opposition teams. What might work as an advantage in certain overseas conditions is a disadvantage in the Indian scenario.”
The pink balls that will be used in Kolkata have been manufactured by SG, an Indian company. And as of now, the team will keep an “open mind” and “wait and watch” how the ball behaves in Indian conditions. However, “some issues” have already popped up in the few days of practice.
The first concern is the colour. R Ashwin told reporters in Indore during the first Test against Bangladesh: “For starters, I don’t know whether it’s pink or orange.”
Some in the team believe this is possibly due to the extra coating of lacquer on the ball to enable it to retain its colour over the course of the match. “It’s possible that as the pink lacquer mixes with the leather, it projects an orange colour under lights. In fact, when the surface is scratched, the colour turns pink,” a member of the Indian team management said.
The serious concern, though, revolves around India’s bowling strengths. “It’s just not the extra lacquer, even the condition of the outfield and the pitch itself need to be tinkered with. A lot more grass is left on the track and outfield so that the ball doesn’t get scuffed up and lose its colour and shine. As the match progresses, this could hamper reverse swing,” a player said.
“If the pink ball demands such conditions, there can’t be a dry abrasive pitch at all for Tests. And with the dew factor, the track would never be conducive for reverse swing. Is it sensible to lose an important and an attractive cricketing skill for the sake of more people in the stands?” the player said.
Considering the attack of Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar — Bumrah and Kumar are not in the current squad — reverse swing is an extremely important tool. While all the five would probably like the new ball, which will swing more initially, they would miss the conditions that help them reverse the old ball.
“It’s definitely a worry. Against tougher teams, this has the potential to upset the bowling combination,” the team management member said.
In Kolkata, the Test is scheduled for an early 1-pm start, and not 2.30 pm or 3 pm, to negate the dew factor. But considering the winter conditions, more than half of the day’s game would be played under lights with the threat of dew affecting the way the ball behaves — a wet ball gets softer and affects the spinners.
Another potential fallout of the pink lacquer is how the ball behaves after the polish wears off. “For some reason, once the lacquer goes off, the ball tends to stop swinging less. So even the extra swing that is being talked about with the pink ball is not going to last too long…may be, the first 20 overs. Then what happens?” the player said.
“If you see a Test in Australia, a majority of the day’s play during pink-ball Tests takes place in sunlight. Only the last session is when the dew comes in, if at all. Indian Tests are usually played in winter, which means that half-hour into the second session, say around 4 or 4.30 pm, it will start to get darker. Dew comes in early. We have to factor in all this for the future,” the management member said.
“Teams around the world will push for a pink-ball Test in India for sure but hopefully such a decision is taken only after a careful evaluation of how the ball behaves in our conditions — it would be silly to lose our strengths when playing in India,” he said.