Day/Night Test cricket – A step into the unknown

After three years of trails, tribulations, debates and suspicion, the inaugural Day/Night Test match is now just a matter of hours away from taking place at the Adelaide Oval.

In this piece I look at the five burning questions facing the match.

Bracewell - pink ball
Image Credit: Getty Images

 

Will the pink ball hold up for 80 overs?

After a “Cricket Australia and Kookaburra nightmare” occurred during last month’s Prime Minister’s XI fixture at Canberra’s Manuka Oval, the longevity of the pink ball appeared a serious cause for concern.

Many doubts were raised during that 50-over fixture, none more so than when the pink ball appeared to lose its lacquer and colour very quickly – turning it from pink to a greenish colour – long before the end of the allotted 50-overs.

Such deterioration was largely blamed on the abrasive Manuka Oval wicket and outfield, which took large pieces of lacquer off the ball when it was either bowled into the pitch or thrown into the wicketkeeper on the bounce. Measures to counter such issues have since been put into place.

To compensate for this Damian Hough, the Adelaide Oval’s chief curator, is working closely with the Cricket Australia hierarchy to maintain that the wicket for Friday’s fixture is set to include an extra couple of millimetres of grass than what would usually be prescribed for a Test match at the venue.

Hough’s will also be creating a smaller square than usual too – with just two wickets either side of the main strip. This, further coupled with a lush green outfield, should ensure that the ball keeps its shape and colour throughout the innings, albeit nullifying any possible reverse swing in the same instance.

This concept was trailed and found largely successful during the recent Adelaide Oval day/night Sheffield Shield fixture between South Australia and New South Wales, allying many of the fears first raised in Canberra a month ago.

Likewise, ball manufacturers Kookaburra have spent the best part of three years researching and developing the pink ball to ensure it resembles the similar mannerisms of its red counterpart.

 

Will the pink ball make for good cricket?

Victorian seamer John Hastings didn’t seem to think so after his side’s recent day/night Shield fixture with Queensland at the MCG.

The former Australian bowler dismissed the pink ball as being conclusive to a “boring brand of cricket”, with his main concerns being over the lack of hardness, movement or swing once the ball had reached the 15-over mark.

Hastings, no neophyte to the pink ball format, has suggested that changing the ball after 50-55 overs instead of the mandatory 80-over mark, which is currently in place in Test cricket, would allow captains to engage in more attacking field placings instead of asking their bowlers to bowl to straight fields.

With a lack of conventional swing available after the ball starts to soften during the 15-20 over mark, it’s difficult to imagine a way in which the quick bowlers will succeed during the afternoon session at least. With the lack of reverse-swing also a factor once the ball softens, it could lead to a period of attritional cricket – where both run scoring and wicket taking becomes predominantly difficult.

However, curator Hough has this week allied those fears by suggesting the added grass on the wicket will allow for an entertaining battle between bat and ball – something that can’t be said for the wickets on offer at the Gabba and the WACA in recent weeks.

Worn out pink ball
How will the Pink Ball hold up to the rigures of Test cricket? (Image Credit: Getty Images)

 

Do the twilight and evening periods give the bowlers an unfair advantage?

Like ODI cricket with the white ball, its pink equivalent has been known to swing more under the lights.

As well as swinging more once the daylight subsides and the floodlights take over – the pink ball, notably a discoloured pink ball, can also be difficult to pick up for both batsmen and fieldsmen once the sun begins to set.

This has raised debate over whether the ball will favour the quick bowlers much more in the second and third sessions, than it would do in the afternoon session. Early suggestions are that it almost certainly will – especially judging by the recent round of day/night Shield matches.

This issue was raised at the Adelaide Oval earlier this month. When Australian captain Steven Smith, at the time skippering NSW, made an interesting declaration on the first evening, he perhaps set a precedent for future captains in this new format.

Once Smith and David Warner were dismissed after a century-stand for the second wicket, it began a collapse as NSW lost eight wickets for 90 runs during the twilight and evening period. With just one wicket remaining Smith had seen enough and declared with the chance to have a bowl at South Australia, in the few remaining overs of the day, simply too good to refuse.

Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood duly delivered for their captain, leaving the home side precariously placed overnight at 3-3.

Faced with a similar situation, expect other captains to follow suit in the search for late evening wickets. It could well give a whole new meaning to the term “nightwatchman”.

 

Will the pink ball favour spin too?

It was once perceived that the pink ball would hinder spin bowling during a Test match, but recent statistics have suggested to the contrary.

NSW left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe has excelled during his three day/night Shield matches at the Adelaide Oval – so much so that he has been added to the squad for the inaugural Test.

In three matches at the venue O’Keefe has taken 18 wickets, including 5-89 and 6-70 in his first day/night fixture there two years ago. And although Australia are likely to favour Nathan Lyon and three seamers, his inclusion at least gives the selectors further options heading into the unknown on a wicket that Hough believes will take “some spin” due to its “coarse and thatchy grass covering”.

Another area which can benefit the spin bowlers is the green seam-stitching on the pink ball. On the surface it seems irrelevant what colour the stitching is, but the issue was this week raised by Smith who insisted that he had particular difficulty in picking up the green seam on the spinning ball whilst facing South Australian part-timer Travis Head during a recent Shield match.

Sheffield Shield - Redbacks v Blues: Day 1
The Adelaide Oval is set to host it’s fourth and most important Day/Night match. (Image Credit: Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

 

Will it attract more fans to the ground and on television?

The early indications are that ticket sales have been good and a crowd of around 40,000 is expected for the first couple of days. If as expected a crowd of around 40,000 does indeed turn up, then it would surpass the first day totals for the two most recent Ashes matches at the ground in both 2010 and 2013.

The match is not just attracting the locals either, around 60% of the non-member ticket sales have been to fans from interstate or overseas – leading to global interest and intrigue over the new concept.

Certainly the introduction of “After work” or “Twilight” tickets have added another dimension to the fan’s cricket experience in the local area. The tickets to be priced at $20 for adults and $10 for children – will allow access into the ground from 4pm onwards, meaning that fans can attend play for the final two sessions of the day at a discounted rate.

Such concepts are sure to engage the public interest with both workers and school children being offered the chance to still see their hero’s after a busy day elsewhere.

For television and more specifically Channel 9, the plan to host the match in Adelaide works perfectly as the network hope to capture primetime viewers in the highly populated Eastern states, similar to the way a Perth Test match would do so.

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