AS a teenager I was warned about witnessing “pink elephants” if I imbibed too much. These days a budding young cricketer may well be urged to beware of pink cricket balls.
This would be a mistake, as it appears that pink ball Test cricket is the future. Australia has included two such matches in this season’s calendar and India is planning ahead with some multi-day pink ball cricket and a possible Test on the drawing board. Despite the reluctance of some players, the administrators are pushing ahead with day-night Tests; a rare (but laudable) display of proactive behaviour from a group more commonly associated with knee-jerk reactions.
The players’ reluctance is understandable — it’s a major change to a very traditional form of the game — but the smart ones will adapt and eventually accept the change as part of evolution.
Spectators watch the day-night Test action between Australia and New Zealand at Adelaide last year. INSET: The pink ball. PICs/GETTY IMAGES
When World Series Cricket (WSC) decided on drop-in pitches and day-night games in the late 1970’s, there was lingering doubt in the minds of the players. Adding to the players’ consternation was the distinct ridge in the middle of the drop-in pitch at VFL Park in Melbourne. This came about because the cement trays containing the pitches were so heavy they had to be prepared in two halves. The join happened to coincide with the favoured length of the many outstanding pace bowlers who played WSC but fortunately the ridge caused no incidents.
Such was the concern of the players over the standard of lighting at the ground that Tony Greig (World XI captain) and I (leading Australia) reached a consensus — rare in those days — over the bowling of bouncers under lights. We agreed to limit their use until we could gauge the visibility.
Not surprisingly most of the concern over the pink ball is coming from the batsmen. Test averages loom large in the mind of many batsmen and it’s not a trait that does the game any good.
No statistical excercise
A Test match is not a statistical exercise — it’s a contest to be won. Part of clinching victory involves entertaining the public and this is becoming an even more important factor in a highly competitive market.
Nearly 40 years on, the players who took part in WSC are proud of their part in the evolution of the game. I have no doubt that current players who contribute to the popularisation of day/night Tests will feel similarly chuffed when they reflect on life while sitting in a rocking chair.
Day-night Test cricket makes sense. The time frame is acceptable for the bulk of the population and it’s a more viable proposition for television. Because it largely avoids the extreme heat, it helps limit skin damage. And day/night Tests could also lead to seven hour playing days, with a reduction in the duration of matches. Despite the misgivings of captains Steve Smith and Alastair Cook, it also makes sense for Ashes series. While crowds have been good for Ashes series, that can’t be taken for granted and cricket should always be alert to attracting new and younger spectators.
While there are many pluses for day-night Tests, they’re all dependent on the contest remaining fair. The jury is still out among the players on the viability of the pink ball but the administrators have been good listeners in this regard. They just recently accepted adjustments to the much maligned seam colouring, furthering the development of the pink ball, which dates back a decade.
One unexpected benefit from the highly successful first Test under lights at the Adelaide Oval was a result of efforts to preserve the condition of the ball. More grass was left on the Adelaide pitch and, if this eventually leads to surfaces being prepared with a greener tinge in Australia, then it’ll be a big improvement on some of the bland surfaces that have made a mockery of the term “contest”.
Cricket is not a statistical exercise devised for the benefit of batsmen. It should be a contest between bat and ball and the more even this battle, the better the end product.