India vs England: At shiny new Motera, beware the twilight hour
The early morning session of a Test match is when things can get very hurried for a batsman. The bowlers are fresh and so is the red ball, ready to pose tough questions in the corridor of uncertainty. Even the smell of lacquered leather can’t be counted out with a healthy bouquet of bouncers.
All of that makes caution the motto for batsmen in the first hour or so.
For day-night Tests, the same reverence is reserved for the second session, when the much dreaded “twilight phase” unfolds.
Since the first day-night Test was played in 2015, the twilight hour has been bugging batsmen; it is when the nature of the light changes and the eyes have to make the difficult transition from sunlight to floodlight.
For a small taste of what that feels like, recall what it’s like when you are driving a car as the sun sets and headlights begin to come on.
The weather changes too but the dew has still some time to set in. Unlike a day-night ODI, the pink ball used in a day-night Test is shinier and harder to spot cleanly.
“It (twilight phase) kind of plays on the batsman’s mind,”
Rohit Sharma said ahead of the third India-England Test in Ahmedabad, which will be a day-night affair.
“I have played only one pink ball Test which was against Bangladesh back in 2019. I did not bat in that time (twilight phase)…I have heard from the players and I have tried to understand what really happens from batsmen who have played; its challenging and the weather and light suddenly changes. You just have to be extra cautious. You have to be focused a little more than you are. During that time, you are starting your second session. Around 5-5:30.”
A good example of the perils of the twilight hour came during the first day-night Test hosted by India against Bangladesh in Kolkata in 2019. At least four Bangladesh batsmen were hit on the head under lights.
Cheteshwar Pujara later pointed out that visibility might have been the cause. “During the sunlight it’s easy to see the ball, whether it’s red or pink. But when it comes to lights, it is a little challenging for the batsman,” he had said then.
Does the pink ball favour pacers or spinners? In that Test vs Bangladesh, which lasted two days and 47 minutes and ended in an innings win for the hosts, all the Bangladesh wickets fell to pacers. However, apart from the Kolkata match, in the two day-night Tests played in Asia (Dubai) spinners were in charge with 46 wickets.
The newly-laid pitch at the refurbished Motera stadium is untested, though Sharma believes it will help spinners.
Turn or no turn, the issue of visibility remains a problem for batsmen when the light conditions change. It led to Sachin Tendulkar giving an important piece of advice to Virat Kohli before the game against Bangladesh.
“He made a very interesting point: ‘with the pink ball you will have to treat the second session like a morning session (of a regular Test). When it is getting darker, the ball starts to swing and seam. The first session, you invariably play like you would from lunch to Tea in a (day) Test. The second session will be like a morning session and the last session will be like an evening session (of a regular Test),” Kohli had said in 2019.
The learning from that match is going into the preparation for the third Test against England. The four-match series is tied at 1-1, and India can’t lose another game if they are to qualify for the final of the World Test Championship.
“We had a separate chat around what happens during that phase of the game and of that particular day. Batsmen are aware of it and we just need to be mindful of the situation we are batting whether you are closing the session or you are starting the session,” Sharma said.
“It’s important that you try and keep talking to yourself that you need to be a little extra focussed at that point of time.”
It’s not just the twilight phase that the two teams will have to contend with at the Motera. That it is hosting its first international match means that the angles of the LED floodlight (here mounted on the circular roof rather than on masts like in most stadiums) and even the shiny new seats may create problems.
“Whenever you play at a new stadium, getting used to the lights is always a challenge. On Monday we will practice under lights, the focus will be on getting used to those lights and the seats in the stadium. It’s a new stadium so the seats will be shiny. We have to get used to all those kinds of things. We will have a long session, try and get used to slip catching, outfield catching in the conditions available,” Sharma said.
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