India's Ravichandran Ashwin celebrates.
India's Ravichandran Ashwin celebrates.

Ball makers SG to conduct more trials after two day pink ball Test

India vs England: Ashwin says players will take time to adapt, as BCCI confirms pink ball Tests here to stay
By Rasesh Mandani
UPDATED ON FEB 27, 2021 10:05 PM IST

What difference does an extra coating of lacquer make? It can be decisive if it’s on the 5.5-ounces pink cricket ball. England captain Joe Root explaining his batsmen’s capitulation in both innings of the Ahmedabad Test pinned it down to the pink SG ball skidding off the dry surface faster than usual against the spinners.

So far, two pink-ball Tests have been played in India, against Bangladesh in November 2019 in Kolkata that lasted 161.2 overs, a little over 2 days and in Ahmedabad that finished in 140.2 overs in less than two days. Does that put the future of pink-ball Tests in India in doubt?

Also read: I have stopped thinking about landmarks long back: R Ashwin on Anil Kumble's 619 wicket-mark

“Pink-ball Tests are here to stay,” a BCCI official affirmed. “The interest and crowds they generate… As for getting the right playing conditions, feedback will be sought from all quarters and we will find a way.”

What the Indian players say will be vital. “We have no apprehensions of playing with the pink ball,” Ravichandran Ashwin said. “It’s just that everybody has been conditioned to play with the red ball. Now all of a sudden they have brought this pink ball and it is bringing new dimensions to the game. So it’s about adapting.”

Though bowlers dominated in both these Tests, the pitches in play were like chalk and cheese. The Eden Gardens Test was played on a pitch with 6mm grass cover while there was no grass on the pitch at the Narendra Modi Stadium. In Kolkata, 27 of the 28 wickets fell to fast bowlers. At Ahmedabad, 28 of the 30 went to spinners.

That extra layer of coating to protect the pink ball is not needed for the dark red ball in a day Test. Layers of pigment are coated over the dull pink leather. It was Root who first said, “the plastic coating, the hardness of the seam compared to the red SG meant it gathered pace off the wicket when it was not hitting the seam." Ashwin, who took seven wickets in the match, felt “even when the ball hit the seam, it was spinning quite big at times.”

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The mode of dismissals at Ahmedabad were unusual in that 21 of the 28 wickets spinners took were off deliveries that did not turn. Axar Patel kept under-cutting the ball to reap rewards. “If it’s going to skid one fraction of a second quicker than you are used to, that’s the difference between hitting the inside edge and hitting the pads,” Ashwin said. “It is quite different (to the red ball). Sometimes, the batsmen can be caught bat behind the pad because the ball has skidded faster than what you have been used to. To make an adjustment withing a span of 5-6 days is not so easy. The more we play, the players will get better.”

Ashwin also believed the pace of the game might have been a touch slower if the red ball was used on the same surface. “Batting would have been slightly easier,” agreed Paras Anand, marketing director, SG. “But it's till the ball has shine for 20-25 overs. After that it is like any other old ball.” Things moved at such a rapid pace in the Test that England lost the top order in both innings while the ball still had its shine.

Anand says he will wait for a formal feedback from BCCI before working on any improvements as the next home Test series is not before the year end. Pink-ball Tests work better when there is the additional safeguard of grass cover. “It is always recommended that there should be grass cover when you are playing with the pink ball to retain the colour longer.”

In the Kolkata Test, Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja got little bowling. When the spinners bowled, thanks to grass on the pitch, the ball didn’t skid off. It swung a lot more and seamed, a pattern seen world over in pink-ball Tests. A relatively weak Bangladesh batting line up also contributed to an early finish.

Can there be improvements if the pink ball has to be used on dry surfaces to aid spin? “We can’t have a trade-off with lesser lacquer affecting visibility,” said Anand. “We will have to do a lot of trials. The good thing is we have time.”

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