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The pink ball conundrum

Last Updated : 01 March 2021, 01:24 IST

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Even as polarising conversations ensue regarding the ‘unfair’ pitch used for the third day/night Test between India and England at the Narendra Modi stadium in Motera, the influence of the pink ball in the two-day outcome isn’t being highlighted nearly enough.

The pink ball, all of 16 Tests old, is still an enigma to bowlers and batsmen alike for it definitively deviates from the characteristics of the red-ball and the white-ball. Besides aiding copious swing, it also slides off the surface quicker than its predecessors and also takes turn in a haphazard manner.

While the unpredictability was ignored in the four Tests which were played in spin-friendly conditions (two in the UAE and two in India so far) despite spinners doing extremely well in three of those games, the latest episode has ensured it shall not be forgotten. Twenty-eight of the 30 wickets in the game were picked up by spinners in Ahmedabad. Subsequently, the pitch came under scrutiny. This, even after Joe Root and Rohit Sharma categorically stated that the ball wasn’t playing how the red-ball or the white-ball does and that had something to do with the abysmal totals.

Apparently, the bowlers had some concerns too, as R Ashwin announced on Saturday. “When I bowled (in the nets), the balance of the ball was a lot different from the red-ball. When you try to put too much revs, it wasn’t rotating as much at the seam as the red-ball would rotate. Clearly, when it lands on the glossy surface the ball would slide and if it all it lands on the seam, it was spinning big. It wasn’t responding the way, the red ball was responding. Whatever was happening, was happening really quickly off the surface.”

Paras Anand, the director of Meerut-based cricket equipment manufacturer Sanspareil Greenlands (SG), said that the extra layer of lacquer which keeps the ball newer for longer to assist swing also contributed to the speeding up of the ball after landing.

“We were scared this would happen when they shaved the surface,” he told DH. “The general practice is to keep enough grass on the surface so the ball won’t deteriorate soon, but when they did remove the grass, we didn’t have any history to base the ball’s performance on. We were in the dark.

“But I think the pink-ball generally comes on a bit faster than the conventional red-ball and white-ball and that’s something batsmen will just have to adapt to. We are working on ways to reduce the gap but I don’t know if we’ll be able to achieve it because that lacquer layer is an essential characteristic.”

Ashwin maintained the new version of Test cricket will need to be given room to breathe before players adapt to it. “We are conditioned to playing with the red-ball and now all of a sudden, they have got in the pink ball,” said the Indian off-spinner. “The pink-ball has brought a new dimension to the game, so it’s about adapting. You play more and more and get used to it.

“The same thing with ODIs. We were used to playing with the red-ball and then shifted to the white-ball. Initially, the white-ball was doing a lot. Now, it does nothing. That’s how this format will also evolve. Anything new is going to have a lot of challenges.”

Waiting for the Board of Control for Cricket in India to get in touch with him after the series, Anand said he was prepared to take suggestions from players. “See, it’s still early days. We are all in an R&D phase, boards, players, curators and manufacturers too. We’ll consider everything said and we’ll come up with a solution.”

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Published 28 February 2021, 17:01 IST

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