Finally, India take to pink ball in day-night Test

Finally, India take to pink ball in day-night Test


While the air is thick with excitement ahead of India's first D/N Test, there is also a sense of apprehension about the unknown.

That Sourav Ganguly has finally succeeded in convincing the Indian team to play a Day/Night Test is a result of his three-year effort. As early as June 2016, as the then CAB president, he had held the final of the Super League – a local tournament – under lights with pink ball as a precursor to a possible pink ball Test against New Zealand who toured India that year for a three-Test series. For various reasons the D/N Test had to be aborted.

Not the one to give up, Ganguly, who was also the BCCI’s technical committee chairman, recommended the Duleep Trophy to be played under lights. With the former India captain now at the helm of BCCI affairs as its president and Bangladesh being the visiting country, it wasn’t too hard for him to convince all parties involved to buy into his idea of a Day/Night Test at Eden Gardens. So, from November 22-26, India and Bangladesh – the only two countries apart from new entrants Ireland and Afghanistan yet to play a pink ball Test – will fight it out under lights.

While the air is thick with excitement, there is also a sense of apprehension about the unknown. Cricket, as it is, is a game that’s largely dictated by extraneous factors. From the nature of the pitch to the condition of the outfield to the changing weather, all go into influencing a game of cricket. Just as pitch conditions – one of the most alluring parts of Test cricket – have lost their original character over the years at many venues across the world, the changing equipment too has caused the evolution of the game. And the cricket ball is one of the major contributors towards that progress.

From red to white to pink, the sphere has been central to cricket’s effort to stay relevant with the changing times and their demands. From ODIs to coloured clothing and day/night affairs to T20 cricket, the game - despite obvious resistance to changes - has successfully reinvented itself but has largely restricted these innovations to limited-over format, leaving the traditional longer version untouched.

The dwindling footfalls at stadia and depleting TV viewership, however, forced the stakeholders to hit upon the idea of Day/Night Test to draw the working class to watch the action in the evening. The proposal was great but there were a number of factors that had to be taken care of and not least the type of ball to be used. It couldn’t have been the conventional red nor the white used for limited-over contests.

Kookaburra, the pioneers in cricket ball manufacturing, tried yellow and orange before settling for pink for its better visibility. While the same technique and process is followed in producing all cricket balls – a cork core that is layered with woolen yarn and covered by a leather case with either hand-sewn or partially hand-sewn seam which changes depending on manufacturers – it’s the colour of the ball that dictates the behaviour of the ball. Here is an attempt to decode behaviour of three different balls.   

So why the colour pink and why not yellow or orange that can also be spotted under lights?

The manufacturers settled for pink after the batsmen complained that optic yellow and bright orange -- which could be spotted on the grass and while taking high catches -- merged with brownish patches on the pitch.

Is there any difference in the process different balls are made?

The specifications for producing a red or a white or a pink ball are the same but the difference lies in behaviour which is the result of difference in finishing. Pink balls deteriorate more slowly than white balls, but have better night visibility than red balls, making them the most suitable ball for day-night Test cricket. While the red Test ball is applied with grease to make the leather waterproof, the same can’t be done to the pink ball as the grease would make the fluorescent pink duller which means the visibility of the ball under lights is affected. The subtle changes relate to the protective film that is added to preserve the pink colour so that it sparkles all night. The downside of it is that the extra coat slows down the wear and tear of the ball, which results in prolonged boring periods.

What’s the difference between white and pink balls which are used in the night?

While the durability and visibility of a pink ball is superior to that of a while ball, they both have certain similar traits. Both swing more initially but go flat sooner than a red ball. The seam movement of pink is more pronounced but once the ball gets softer, the swing too disappears. With the extra coat of colour preventing the fading of the leather, the reverse swing is taken out of equation as well while spinners find it hard to turn.  

How do conditions affect the outcome of D/N Tests?

It’s interesting to note that despite prolonged periods of struggles for bowlers with the pink ball, all nine D/N Tests played so far have produced outright results. While the sample is small, you can see a clear pattern emerging. Where in Australia and New Zealand the bowlers have dominated, matches in England and Asia have seen batsmen score double and triple tons.

What’s the best phase for bowlers?

The pattern in the D/N Tests again shows that most of these matches turn interesting in the twilight zone when the sun is setting and the artificial lights are slowly coming on. Cheteshwar Pujara recently spoke of the necessity of batsmen to cope with this phase when the natural and artificial lights mix and make the task of spotting the ball difficult. The dipping temperatures during that time of the day aid more swing, resulting in a clutch of wickets.