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27 Nov 2015 00:00
Everything changes in cricket, discolouring balls and all, but not the colour of the players' outfit. (AFP)
There really are times in cricket when you have to just shake your head in bewilderment. Last summer in England, when the decision was made to raise the mower blades a fraction in order to promote the excellence of England seamers in their own conditions and the paucity of Australia’s technique, opprobrium rained down.
This was pitch doctoring, apparently.
Much the same is happening in India, where the haplessness of the South Africa batsmen against the Indian spinners has been exposed on dusty turners and may well be again in the final Test that is not expected to be played on a green top.
In Adelaide this week, for the third Test between Australia and New Zealand, they have left extra grass on what is normally a horribly flat drop-in pitch. But this is not to help the pacemen by livening the surface up and offering some encouragement to the spear chuckers with a bit of seam movement. The match will be the inaugural day-night Test – and, as such, the first game at this level to use pink cricket balls, which in normal conditions have been found to deteriorate over the course of 80 overs to such an extent that these ragged spheres end up resembling pictures of Mars taken from the Hubble space telescope.
Leaving grass on the Adelaide pitch has been done with the primary purpose of protecting the cricket ball, so one man’s doctoring is another man’s micromanagement, as it appears to be called at the Adelaide Oval. The collateral damage may just be a very short game of cricket but what does that matter as long as the ball, in which so much has been invested, retains its integrity?
Now at this point, it needs to be said that this is not in any way to criticise the principle of day-night Test cricket, which, provided it is played in the right environment (one in which the outfield does not become dew-sodden, the temperature is such that spectators are not huddled in winter clothing and, to be picky, where it actually gets dark so there is a point to floodlights), may well prove to be a means of attracting spectators where they have hitherto been noticeably absent.
The United Arab Emirates, which has staged early trials of day-night first-class cricket, would seem to be a case in point, and in that regard a trick may have been missed with the Pakistan series against England. Test cricket, as Brydon Coverdale eloquently writes on Cricinfo, has evolved over the course of 138 years – in duration, laws, equipment, umpiring and so on – and this is just one more step on that road.
It is a personal opinion, though, that in promoting the pink ball (and goodness, hasn’t it been promoted as the saviour of the game?) the International Cricket Council has been approaching this from entirely the wrong angle. It is getting on for four decades since Kerry Packer introduced day-night matches and with it the white ball, and it is the white ball that has been used for such games ever since, something that has evolved to all of what we must call List A cricket, whether floodlit or otherwise.
There is a reason the white ball is still used after all that time: in terms of visibility, it works. The downfall is that at times it has discoloured to the extent that batsmen were finding it more difficult to sight it from the pitch. For the most part, though, spectators have found it reliable, as have the players, particularly the fielders.
The primary reason for the development of an alternative colour is to find a ball that will last 80 overs and beyond but that will be visible to all under lights, the singular failing of the red ball. Allied to this is another reason, more about which in a moment.
The pink ball, manufactured by Kookaburra, has hardly received rave reviews from those whose stock in trade it is. Some who have used it in Australia tell me that it goes soft very quickly (more so than the normal Kookaburra, which is itself a poor cricket ball) and that bowlers need to cash in early while batsmen find it frustrating to hit the soft ball later on, although they can protect their wicket readily enough. Fielders have trouble sighting it against the background (more so than the white ball) and batsmen can see it properly only because they have benefit of a sightscreen.
Ali Martin, the Guardian’s cricket news reporter who was in the UAE earlier in the year and watched match trials, says that from the periphery, not just the press box but around the ground in Abu Dhabi, he found it hard to see the ball well.
Here, then, is where the ICC has missed the point. Instead of looking to change the colour of a ball that for the most part has worked in terms of visibility for 40 years, it may have been better seeking to solve the problem of a white ball that discolours.
Or approach it laterally. If, as Coverdale correctly postulates, the game does evolve, then what would be so wrong in using two white balls in an innings, one from either end, as in one-day international cricket? Duke, so a former esteemed Australia Test bowler tells me, made a better white ball than Kookaburra anyway that would last at least 40 overs.
Oh, yes, white clothing, I hear you say. Odd, isn’t it, that of all the changes we are prepared to make to Test cricket, including the latest use of a pink ball under lights, the colour of the clothes the game is played in appears sacrosanct?
Coverdale argues that so-called tradition is no reason not to use a pink ball. The argument here is that the pink ball is unnecessary and tradition is no reason not to change the attire. Day-night Tests, with a white ball and coloured clothing, makes absolute sense. – © Guardian News & Media 2015
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