Year in Review 2016: Day-night Tests witnessed more even contests thanks to improvements in pink ball

  • Vedam Jaishankar
  • December 28th, 2016
  • 10:59:24 IST

Are we moving towards a scenario where the order of the day would call for a day-night Test champion to be differentiated from a day Test champion? Or more appropriately, where a red-ball cricket champion team would be distinguished from a pink-ball cricket champion?

Pointers are, the ground is being readied for this sort of classification of champions in a sport that currently boasts of different versions of white-ball world champions – 50 overs and T20.

Pink ball with white and green seam used before (L) and with black seam used now. Getty Images

Pink ball with white and green seam used before (L) and with black seam used now. Getty Images

At this point it may be difficult to envisage a pink-ball champion scenario. However, recent changes in the design and manufacturing of the pink ball have made it a far less challenging proposition than at the beginning of 2016.

Embarrassed by the swiftness with which the inaugural pink-ball Test between Australia and New Zealand was wrapped up at the Adelaide Oval in November 2015, the game's administrators sought to put in place changes that would avert such three-day finishes.

They passed on inputs gleaned from players to ball manufacturers and asked them to return to the drawing board in order to come up with a better product. The result was the incorporation of substantial changes in the development of the pink ball and these seem to have worked well.

The first thing was to have an additional layer of lacquer on the ball. This, along with other changes, ensured the ball retained its shine and hardness over a longer period of time and thus obviated the need to have an extra thickness of grass on the pitch to protect the leather. In fact, during Australia's Test against Pakistan at Brisbane earlier this month, only the normal 2mm of grass was left on the pitch.

The next thing that the ball manufacturers did was to replace the white and green thread of the seam with black. This substantially improved the visibility of the seam for batsmen. Additionally, spinners got a better grip on the roughened seam.

Of course, fast bowlers were left lamenting that it was now difficult to reverse swing the pink ball but the batsmen were not complaining. These changes in the ball and consequently, less grass left on the pitch, ensured that the three Tests played in the year 2016 were as high scoring as red-ball Test matches.

However, there was a downside. In Pakistan's Test against West Indies in Dubai, even the change in match timings and colour of the ball failed to attract crowds.

This was a far cry from the experience of pink-ball Tests in Australia where three times the normal crowd embraced change in match timings.

Importantly, although these Tests are deemed to be day-night encounters, most of the match is played during the day (late afternoon), a big part during twilight and merely an hour or so at night. Thus office-goers would still need to take half-a-day's leave on working days to witness the matches.

Three pink-ball Tests were scheduled during the year: Pakistan versus West Indies at the Dubai International stadium in October; Australia versus South Africa at the Adelaide Oval in November and finally, Australia versus Pakistan at The Gabba in Brisbane in December.

The Dubai Test, the second pink-ball Test ever, was a roaring success in terms of the gripping contest that had both teams in with a chance even during the last session of the fifth day.

Pakistan's batsmen completely dominated the proceedings early on with opener Azhar Ali making an unbeaten triple ton. West Indies conceded a 222-run lead as Pakistan leg-spinner Yasir Shah scalped five wickets. The spinner who bagged a further two wickets in the second innings said that he was extremely happy with the grip he was getting on the ball and went on to claim that it was better than the conventional cricket ball.

West Indies' fightback on the fourth and fifth days was brilliant and they almost pulled off a famous victory through Darren Bravo's super ton.

The setting for Australia's second pink-ball Test was the same as the first, the Adelaide Oval. But while the pitch had 8mm of grass in the inaugural Test against New Zealand a year earlier, pitch for this Test against South Africa, thanks to improvements in the design and manufacture of the pink ball, could do with a mere 2mm of grass.

The batsmen showed their appreciation of it, though it really was the batting of Aussie opener Usman Khawaja along with the tailenders that took the match away from the South Africans.

The Proteas had a centurion in each innings – skipper Faf du Plessis in the first and Stephen Cook in the second – but the varied bowling attack of the Australians accounted for the rest. The home team won quite easily, by seven wickets.

The Test between Australia and Pakistan at The Gabba was a lot closer though it did not look that way when the home team batted first and rattled up 429 and then shot out the Pakistanis for 142.

However, the visitors' chase of 490 runs for a win was most impressive before they lost by a mere 39 runs.

As can be ascertained from the course of these three Tests, the shortcomings of the pink ball might be behind us. The challenge though would be to factor in the presence of dew which would be a certainty in the grounds of the subcontinent in the winter months between October and March. The dew factor could well take the spinners out of the equation in matches under lights in India and that will not be to India's liking.

In the immediate future, England too look set to embrace pink ball cricket with a few four-day matches scheduled to be played at the county level, a Test against the West Indies in August and finally an Ashes Test at the Adelaide Oval in December 2017.

Indeed at the rate in which teams are embracing pink-ball Tests, the day may not be far off when along with ICC World Cup (ODIs), T20 and Test championship an ICC Pink-ball Championship too could be on the cards!

Updated Date: December 28, 2016 10:59:24 IST

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