India demolished Bangladesh inside three days in Indore. South Africa experienced something somewhat similar in their last two Tests last month. When Bangladesh arrived on Indian shores, no one expected any surprises. The series previews had 2-0 scorelines, somewhat assertively predicted. It was meant to be this way. It's sort of become a predictable theme when visiting teams tour India majorly because of the fire-breathing dragon that India have become in Test cricket, especially at home. They are the favourites to win the next match against Bangladesh as well and gobble up another 120 points.
However, there is something to breathe excitement into the series this time — the pink ball day-night Test. Kolkata is buzzing in pink. A mascot has been unveiled. The first four days of the Test are sold out. India are on the brink of making their debut in day-night Tests and so are Bangladesh.
As both the teams head into the historic Test, the one question that has intrigued everyone is, how will the pink ball behave?
The pink ball had made its debut in the Indian domestic arena back in 2016 when it was used in the Duleep Trophy. The experiment continued for three seasons until 2018. The pink Kookaburra ball was used at that time.
This is the first time the pink SG ball will be used in an international game. So no one knows how it will behave. However, there may be similar challenges the players might face with the SG ball as well.
The pink ball experiment in Duleep Trophy had elicited a mixed response and the general consensus was that it was a work in progress.
Firstpost spoke to players who played in the Duleep Trophy to find out their experience and challenges of playing with the pink ball.
The overall pink ball behaviour:
"The pink ball swings a lot more than a red ball and it gets older a little faster than the red ball," says Saurashtra batsman Sheldon Jackson. "It's a little more difficult to judge the shine of the pink ball compared to the red ball."
"Initially in the first 10 overs, because of the glossiness of the ball, the ball swung more," explains Baba Indrajith, who averaged 95.66 in 2017-18 Duleep Trophy playing for India Red and averaged 74.50 in 2018-19. "After that when the ball went slightly semi-new, there wasn't much swing like the red ball. But later on when the breeze set in during the evening session or the dinner session, even if the ball was old, there was something slightly happening with the ball. When we played with the new ball under lights, it swung even more than the afternoon session."
Jackson, who was the third-highest run-getter playing for India Blue in the first edition of the Duleep Trophy with the pink ball held in Greater Noida in 2016-17 season and scored two centuries, says that his biggest challenge was sighting the ball under lights.
"It was something so new," he said. "When we went into play we never had any day-night practice. We walked straight into the match without a practice session with the pink ball. Adjusting yourself under the lights (was challenging), because the ball starts doing a little bit more under the lights."
Bengal batsman Manoj Tiwary faced similar problems. "It's just the change of colour of the ball, but you have to get the feel of the ball to adjust to the change in colour because the experience was not there and we had practiced just a couple of sessions."
For Indrajith, the biggest challenge was picking the seam of the ball.
"It wasn't very easy to pick the seam of the ball especially when the wrist spinners were in operation," Indrajit said. "It wasn't easy to pick their googlies or the wrong'uns or the variations because of the seam of the ball. You have to watch the hand very closely when you play the wrist spinners.
"Wrist spin was a bigger challenge for me because I usually watch the seam position when they bowl the variations, but with the pink ball and the seam, it was very difficult to spot the variations. It is important that you watch the ball closely from the hand and the position of the wrist when they are bowling."
Picking the wrist spinners was a challenge for the other batsmen as well, especially under lights. The Kookaburra seam was black in colour and the seam got pressed after 30-40 overs. Also, as the ball got old, it started becoming a bit blackish.
"At that time the benefit for a spinner was that during the night time, it was very difficult to check the hand because there is no seam so you aren't able to pick which one is a leg spinner and which one is a googly," leg-spinner Karn Sharma, who was the highest wicket-taker with 15 wickets playing for India Red in the 2017-18 Duleep Trophy, explains.
Karn used the benefit to his advantage.
"I bowled in the right areas. When it's difficult for batsmen to see the wrist, it becomes a benefit for the wrist spinners. I kept varying to kept the batsmen guessing," Karn says.
Tiwary, who has had the experience of playing with the pink ball in Australia on the emerging team's tour around eight years back where they were experimenting with different colour balls, as well as in India in the 2016-17 Duleep Trophy, says the challenges of playing with the pink ball depend a lot on the pitches.
"The emerging teams didn't play in big stadiums or Test venues so surfaces on different grounds were pretty challenging. In Australia, it was open ground and the pitches were pretty lively and hard as well. Over there it was tough for the batsmen.
"The pink ball is covered with extra lacquer and it's pretty hard as well compared to other balls. So it tends to bounce pretty hard if the wicket is hard enough. And it always has the lateral movement. Also, if the pitch has moisture, it will seam around as well. So it becomes difficult for the batsmen, because swing off the air is manageable and there are batters who have the skill to negotiate it. But when it seams around, it becomes difficult. My experience was totally different in Kanpur and Lucknow in Duleep Trophy 2017-18 compared to Australia, because the nature of the pitch was pretty slow. There was grass but underneath it, the surface was dry so the ball didn't bounce as much. It wasn't seaming around, it wasn't jagging around. And spinners had little assistance in the day time.
"If the pitch is on a slower side then it's a Diwali for batsmen but if the pitch is hard, if there is a little bit of grass along with then hardness then its a Diwali for the bowlers."
Once the pink ball got old, it became arduous, especially for the seamers and the finger spinners, who found it difficult to grip the ball with the seam not so prominent.
"Once pink ball gets older, it becomes difficult to bowl with it, as there is no reverse swing and the ball became soft due to the thick pink lacquer coating on the ball," Saurashtra pacer Jaydev Unadkat explains.
"For the batsmen, it was probably easier to sight the pink ball once they got used to it. But they had problems later on when the pink coating started coming off the ball. There was no prominent seam later on with the old pink ball, so it got difficult to get any purchase out of the pitch too. The spinners too found it difficult whenever there was no real purchase off the pitch."
Veteran Rajasthan pacer Pankaj Singh says that even the first part of the day becomes challenging for the pacers.
"Normally, first-class matches start at 9 so it's cold unless you are playing in a very dry area. And comparatively, when you are playing D/N cricket, the wicket deteriorates under the sun during the day time. You have to adjust to that. In day games, there is freshness in the wicket because of the climate but here until the afternoon, the freshness gets lost. And since it's difficult to maintain the ball, the chances of achieving reverse were also less."
While there are difficulties, in pink-ball games, it as very important for pacers to utilise the new ball well, according to Pankaj.
"Because that's when you will get the most opportunities with the help that you get. You need to use the new ball well and get 2-3 wickets early. With the new ball, as a fast bowler the chances of you dominating as sightly higher. If the opposition openers start off well then the game becomes difficult."
The other key thing for pacers to succeed is bowl bouncers, something which helped the fast bowlers in the Duleep Trophy.
"You need to make good use of the short ball. The seam is softer but the rest of the ball is harder so cross-seam bouncers are effective, they used to create difficulty for the batsmen. They were used by bowlers later on in the match and it helped as well."
Batting under lights, with the new ball is the most difficult phase for a batsman. In order to tackle it, Indrajith says that it's important to "play closer to your body and watch the ball closely."
For Sheldon, the key was "just to focus more on the ball and the bowler's hand." What made batting easier was he had Cheteshwar Pujara at the other end advising him to "watch the ball really hard".
What to expect at Eden Gardens?
While there is intrigue around how the SG pink ball will behave, Karn who is a contract player with SG and had practiced a couple of times with the pink SG ball around a year ago, says the manufacturers were planning to change it a little bit from when he played but the SG ball will play better than Kokuburra if there is no dew.
"It will come onto the bat nicely," says Karn. "But it will swing more compared to Kokuburra because its seam is a little bit hard and upright. It should play well because it's played at Eden and it's winter time so it will swing more. When the sun will set at around 5-5.30, it will be a different challenge. We might not get to see a lot of reverse. It will be good for medium pacers. The finger spinners didn't have much of a say with Kokuburra but since SG's seam is hard and upright, it will help the finger spinners as well."
"I see the pitch at Eden Gardens will be a sporting one," says Manoj who has formerly played for Kolkata Knight Riders and knows Eden Gardens well. "Because we've seen the Eden pitch assist the seamers with the red ball and also with the white ball as well barring a couple of IPL games but in the league as well the wickets are pretty challenging. Since the game is going to start at 1 pm in the afternoon, I don't see anything that is going to challenge the batters in the first half of the session. The only challenging part will be the evening time when the sun fades away and it becomes darker. The winter is setting in so there will be moisture in the air so it will help the pacers. When the ball starts moving around then obviously the skill part is tested."
The Indian players have had a few practice sessions with the SG pink ball in the nets, Rahane considers it a "different ball game" from the red ball. For him, the lateral movement is big and playing close to the body will be the key.
"Our focus during the practice session was to look into the swing and seam, and also play close to our body," Rahane was quoted as saying by ESPNCricinfo. "What we found out after the practice session that the pink ball does a lot (more) than the red ball. We have to play slightly late and close to your body. We had word with Rahul bhai also as he was there. We had a very good practice session. Right now the focus is on the first Test match, the red SG ball.
"The lateral movement is big, actually a lot than the red ball. "Adjustment-wise, I'm sure everyone will adjust very quickly. We are used to playing different formats - after T20s we play Tests. It's just the mindset, technical skills will play a role. Mentally if you can adjust to the pink ball, then it'll be good."
With all the intrigue, science, experiments and expected full house, it will be fascinating to see how it all unfolds at the Eden Gardens.
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