The scenes were reminiscent of a past, long gone by that would resurface in the mind’s eye from time to time only to lament the spectators’ apathy to domestic cricket and the longer format of the game.
Street vendors selling roasted corn, peanuts, hot syrupy tea outside the stadium, and a large crowd, in a hurry to buy these snacks and rush through the entry gate, with minor traffic jams adding to the sense of importance and anticipation for the action unfolding inside the stadium.
This past fortnight recreated these visuals at the Greater Noida’s asthetically-designed cricket stadium where the Indian board experimented with day-night cricket to test the possibility of introducing it in Test matches. From a purely spectator experience, judging by the few thousand people who came to the ground each day and showed remarkable patience even while the game was stopped for hours and hours due to rain and wet conditions, the experiment was a resounding success.
Even the players, used to playing domestic cricket on empty grounds where the only sounds disturbing the eerie silence would be of the ball hitting the bat or the shouts of “how’s that”, were pleasantly surprised at the turnout. The involvement of the crowd added to the spirit of competitiveness, and was acknowledged by most of the players who played the tournament.
The more ticklish problem, in a sense the real issue, for which this year’s Duleep Trophy was made into a testing ground, was to find out how well would the Kookaburra-made pink ball last the five days in natural as well as the floodlights?
Here the verdict is still uncertain. While it did not turn out to be demonic for the batsmen, as runs were scored in the tons, but uncomfortable questions were still raised. The most important were the intense shine of the ball, which seems to change colour in twilight and the night. Many found sighting it a problem because of this. The seam, black in colour and too tightly interwoven, was a major source of worry as the batsmen were unable to sight it and found it difficult to read the spin, especially the “googlies and the wrong ones.”
In the final, the wicket was left without any traces of grass and in the first innings, the lacquer on the ball got discoloured often and the ball had to be changed five times. The ball, as it wore out due to the abrasive nature of the surface, did turn on the fourth and fifth day, which would please India if they some day in the future, decide to play a Test match at home with it.
An encouraging sign for the batsmen was that the ball did not move in the artificial lights as much as they had feared. In fact, the hardness of the ball was welcome as it allowed them to play with freedom, though its tennis-ball like bounce was an irritant. What would please the batsmen also is that the pink-ball does not get rough and to reverse swing it seems an impossibility.
Since dew was not a major factor in this tournament, it is still not clear how the ball would behave in the night, especially when matches are played in the winters, and it is likely that the bowlers would find it extremely difficult to grip the ball.
There is no doubt that from a spectator’s perspective, this experiment was a success. But there are a few strong ifs and buts from a cricketing point of view which still need ironing out before India and the world should say yes to day-night Test cricket.