Cricket: Red or Green for Pink ball test cricket?

The much celebrated advent of the pink ball and day-night test cricket in India lasted a little over two nights. Blame it on the ruthlessness of the host team who, coincidentally now, have more points in the World Test Cricket Championship table than other eight test playing nations put together. The Mecca of cricket, Eden Gardens, now has a set of disappointed fans who brought tickets to make Day 3 & 4 sold out too. The blessed ones who witnessed Day 1 & 2 of this historic test match, saw Virat Kohli get a classy hundred, Ishant Sharma pick nine wickets, Wriddhiman Saha diving all around splendidly and at start of a new innings, 17:10 hrs on 23 Nov 2019, India had four slips and a gully to the new ball under lights.

Kolkata was dressed in pink as BCCI and India once again proved no one celebrates the game of cricket better

Exaggerated Swing

Perhaps it’s the last bit which is more intriguing about day-night test match and pink-ball cricket. Saha looked the best wicketkeeper the game has ever seen for the superhero-like flying takes he was making to the insanely late prodigious swinging ball. Forget Bangladesh, any batting team would have struggled vs any decent pace attack in those conditions. In a historic first, two batsmen from the same team (Bangladesh) needed to be substituted as preventive measure fearing concussion, after both were hit on their respective heads while batting. Even factoring that Virat Kohli’s team are dominating home turf like no other side in the history of cricket, this was still an exception.

Ishant Sharma was not all ‘shaant’ (quiet) with the pink ball

Three Day Pink Tests?

The pink ball does offer exaggerated assistance to fast bowlers. It moves faster in the air too. Quality pace batteries like Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah could rip apart sides within a couple of hours with this ball. The movement is prodigious during the twilight hours (middle session of a day-night test) and gives an unfair advantage to a bowling unit. Post sunset, if there is dew, the same ball is tough to grip, feels a bit like grappling with a bar of soap and gives an unfair advantage to the batting side.

Even modern hi-tech cameras were unable to catch the flying Saha in action

Thus within a matter of an hour, the advantage makes a radical swift from bowling team to the batting team. Harsha Bhogle has strong doubts about the visibility of the ball at different times of the day (and night) against the white screen. Sanjay Manjrekar felt the surface of the ball needed improvisation. There seems to be teething issues aplenty, as it happens with introduction of any new process. Honestly, had two top teams played the Kolkata test, both teams would have struggled to score totals of 200 and the team winning the contest would have been the one whose key batsmen were lucky enough to get more overs to bat when the ball was wet. The test match would have likely still finished in three days.

Kolkata fans plead Bangladesh batsmen to stretch the match longer to get value for their tickets

Can Pink Spin?

Which brings to the point that pink ball day-night test has a huge luck factor attached to it and one community of bowlers detached to it. Two teams historically dependant on spin bowlers to win a test match saw just one out of the 28 fallen wickets going to a spinner. The ICC Test cricketer of the year 2016, Ravichandran Ashwin and his spin partner Ravindra Jadeja, together didn’t get to bowl even ten overs the entire test match. Pink ball day-night test cricket has a long way to go, and as a Virat Kohli rightly put it on the eve of the game “In my opinion, this should not become the only way Test cricket is played.”

Truly.

pavan

My close friend Pavan Singh was amongst the Day 3 crowds who, despite knowledge of a much curtailed day of play, still thronged the stands and made it a memorable debut for the pink ball test in India.

In conclusion, test cricket cannot depend on day-night tests to revive interest in it; it needs to explore alternate solutions to survive. That too, quick and fast. The red ball is still in. So while Kolkata had a ball of a time, the pink ball will take time to get the rub of the green!

India now play only five test matches in 2020… with the red ball.

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