Long-format cricket is struggling to keep pace with the changing times as well as the explosive Twenty20 format.
There has been a sharp decline in spectators for Tests, though in Australia, India and England, the fans do come in for crucial days of a five-day match (especially if it is a tight encounter between traditional rivals). But that has hardly made a difference in the slide and the just concluded India-West Indies series is a classic example.
Cricket purists and the governing boards are trying to find means to revive the fortunes of the traditional form of the game—they are looking for a revolution.
Enter the pink ball. It is too early to call day-night Tests and the pink ball as game-changers and a revolution, but the idea just might click if it manages to capture the fancy of the crowd T20 caters to—the prime time sports fan.
The first day-night pink kookaburra ball Test was played in Australia last November. India, where trends and revolutions in cricket are made or broken, joined the bandwagon a few months later.
The pink ball made its debut in a club match between Mohun Bagan and Bhowanipore Club at the Eden Gardens in June. And Duleep Trophy, which started on Tuesday in Greater Noida, will be the first time the pink ball is being used in an official BCCI tournament.
The trial is on, and what pans out through Duleep Trophy this year might have a huge say in the future of Test cricket. It is clear that the BCCI is keen to see the day-night Test idea work.
However, the pink brings with it a few challenges for the players. There are a lot of unknowns but from what has been seen so far during the little amount of cricket being played with it, the ball troubles batsmen and spinners, while offering some—but erratic—help to fast and swing bowling.
The results of the match in Kolkata as well as the Aussie-Kiwi Test match shed more light into this. The Test match ended in three days with the fast bowlers accounting for 29 wickets. In the Kolkata match, Mohammed Shami took seven wickets, with his swing bamboozling the opposition batsmen.
When all is said and done, cricket attracts fans when the batsmen score big. In Tests, a result is desirable, but people enjoy the action when there is a proper contest between the bat and the ball—not one-sided wicket-taking flurries.
Perhaps, after some more matches, the players might get accustomed to the nature of the pink ball and learn how to tap into its potential—both for scoring runs as well as taking wickets with more control on the flight of the ball.
However, there are a few things that might make the BCCI a little skeptical about the pink ball. Here are some of the issues reported with the ball:
Swing, no swing
The traditional red ball assists swing when it’s new and reverse swing once it wears down. However, the pink ball behaves drastically different—the new ball, under lights, swings but very unevenly. And once the ball gets old (35 plus overs), it doesn’t swing at all.
A ball that assists bowlers early on and then the batsmen is offered sporting chance is good, no doubt. But the erratic nature of the swing is a spot of bother.
The pink ball doesn’t last as long as the traditional ball, something that can be changed with more research and development. The biggest shortcoming is that the pink ball loses shape fast, making it difficult for the bowlers to grip. The ball has also been known to take on a darker hue in a few overs, making the life of the batsmen tricky.
It was noticed during the matches that after a few overs, dark spots appear on the light pink colour of the ball transforming it to dark pink, which is difficult to see under artificial light. Some players had complained that the pink ball looks almost like a red ball once the colour change happens. And one can’t possibly play with a red ball in the night.
The spin bowlers find it difficult to grip the ball as it loses shape fast. And, with dew a big factor while playing in the night spinners are not the biggest fans of the pink ball.
If the pink ball means trouble for spinners, the subcontinent teams and India will not be that keen to use it. If the ball takes out the winning edge, why would the BCCI entertain it?
As of now, batsmen face a lot of uncertainties while playing the pink ball. To start with, they have to deal with the wild swing. While later, when the ball settles down, they have trouble reading the seam as it is black in colour.
It’s still early days for the pink ball. Of course, like any experiment, there will be trial and error involved and a lot of development work based on the shortcomings observed. For now, the entire cricketing world will be looking keenly on how the matches at the Duleep Trophy progress.