The viability of the pink-ball revolution, that is supposed to revive the dwindling fortunes of Test cricket and bring spectators back to the ground, is being tested by the Indian cricket board at a hitherto unknown but very picturesque venue at Greater Noida these days.
A privately-owned floodlight ground, surrounded by grassy banks and a pavilion building that is not an eyesore, has for the past couple of days seen a few hundred spectators watch in curiosity and excitement the first-ever day-night first-class cricket match being played in India.
Having watched young men in coloured clothing, bathed in artificial “sunshine” while darkness has descended all around, play the 50-over version of the game, the novelty of watching players in white clothes playing with a luminous pink ball, whose shine is visible even from a distance, is an irresistible attraction.
The cricket world, which is seriously mulling switching over from day to night Test cricket and has even played a Test match with the pink ball in night conditions, is watching this Indian experiment with keenness. If India accepts this experiment as a permanent fixture, it will push Test cricket into the floodlit mode quicker than anyone expects. Since money makes the mare go, a wholehearted yes from India would open the floodgates and cricket may never be the same again.
At the heart of this radical change the sport may be undergoing, is the pink ball made of double hide. It is as hard as an iron ball and covered with a special shining lacquer that makes the ball visible to the players in the artificial lights. Those who have played with the ball say it swings far more than a leather ball, especially once the lights are on and because the shine does not wear off easily, it is bound to assist the seamers throughout the match.
At the Greater Noida venue, two quick bowlers from one of the Duleep Trophy teams, are practising at the nets and it is obvious they are a bit confused and are trying to figure out how the ball is going to behave. Since the shine will remain the same on both sides with little or no wear and tear, reverse swing is ruled out. The most alarming news probably is for the spinners. To keep the shine intact so that the ball is visible to the batsmen, wickets need to be green, the role of the spinners could become almost redundant, even on the fourth and fifth day of the Test.
That brings us to the crucial question, especially from an Indian perspective and this of the home advantage. Will India, which relies on spinning tracks at home, be willing to sacrifice this advantage and risk defeat for the sake of popularising Test cricket?
These were the questions being debated even at the ground. Given the nature of the ball, which appeared as hard as a rock, it does seem that once batsmen get more used to it, they may find it easier to play it than the leather ball. Is it a must to have a green wicket, as has been prepared for the first of the Duleep Trophy matches here and was done for the Australia-New Zealand Test?
Apparently, there is a possibility that in one of the matches in this series to be played at Greater Noida, the wicket will be left bald, shorn of any grass, just to see what effect it will have on the pink ball. Will the shine last? Will it quickly become too rough and disfigured, just like the white ball does? The Indians would be observing the impact of a typical Indian wicket on the pink ball with tremendous interest. These are early days still, but there is no doubt that what is playing out in Greater Noida is not just a routine first-class match, but a tournament that could redefine the future of Test cricket.
(Views expressed are personal. The author tweets as @pradeepmagazine)