Cricket looks pretty in pink, at least for now

The first pink-ball match in India — Mohun Bagan versus Bhawanipore in the final of the CAB Super League — has indeed been a bit of a success. We have to wait and see how the ball plays on rough and hard surfaces, and whether the spinners too will get assistance from the ball. You cannot rule out spinners, they are an integral part of the game.

Former India cricketer V. V. S. Laxman with the pink ball at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Pink is the ideal colour that stands out in the night under lights, writes Arun Lal.   -  PTI

Let’s start by saying that the introduction of the pink ball in a day-night format is to revitalise Test cricket. We all are in love with that format of the sport and that tradition has survived since the beginning, over a century, so to say. However, of late, there is a problem, with not many spectators turning up at the stadiums.

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Nobody even likes to watch the match on television if there is nobody in the stands. So, it is imperative that we get the crowds back to the grounds if we have to save Test cricket. In this aspect, everyone is on the same page — be it the BCCI, the players, the sponsors, the television broadcasters, journalists or the spectators.

 

The pink ball is only an extension of the effort to reinvigorate Test cricket. In that respect, I think we are going in the right direction. The colour of the ball does not really matter here. It could be pink, green, blue or any other colour. There has been some research that suggests that the ideal colour that stands out in the night under lights is this particular fluorescent pink. It is quite correct. That was the impression I got, as I watched the first match in India played with a pink ball, here at the Eden Gardens. There is absolutely no problem with its visibility, and all the players I talked to said so.

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The one problem with this experiment is that the seam of the pink ball is not visible. As a batsman, I used to follow the seam. So, when a bowler bowled a leg-break and if I missed spotting it from his hand, I could make it by seeing which way the seam is turning. The same applied to a googly or a top-spinner. But when you are playing in the night, you cannot see the seam, whether it is the white ball or the pink ball. The artificial lights can only mimic 80 percent of the light you have during daytime. Nothing can replace sunshine, and one has to take that into consideration when opting for day-night Test cricket.

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That should not be a downer though. You have to understand it, adjust to it and carry on. The pink ball has served the purpose in that it has lasted 75 overs; the white ball does not. The white ball becomes muddy, posing problems with its visibility. Keeping that in mind, the manufacturer put extra coating of lacquer on the pink ball to see how the experiment works. This ensured that the ball lasted well, its shine endured the punishment, and stayed for the extent of time it was supposed to last. The pink ball also swung well.

The one area that intrigues me is the mandate to have grass on the wicket. I do not think there is any reason to have grass on the track. The grass is mandated on the track because the manufacturer of the pink ball is worried that the leather of the ball will get scuffed up. And when it gets scuffed after coming into contact with the soil, there is the danger of the ball losing its pristine shine and colour, and it might suddenly become difficult to sight the ball. That is the apprehension. But if you lacquer it to that extent and want so much grass on the track, then it will not work in Indian conditions.

It may work in England, Australia or New Zealand, but it will not work in the sub-continent where we do not like so much grass. Ideally, this match — Mohun Bagan versus Bhawanipore in the final of the CAB Super League — with the pink ball should have been played on a rough, hard, grassless surface. That would have made the experiment worthwhile, because we need to know what can go wrong, and only then can we make rectifications.

The only downside of the first match in India with the pink ball was that the spinners did not get that much of a chance. That was because the pacers were getting so much out of the track and the conditions. We definitely do not know whether it was the newly developed ball or the wicket that was helping the fast bowlers, because the presence of grass did not allow a proper assessment of the behaviour of the ball. It also prevented us from assessing how the pink ball plays on the rough, hard tracks of the sub-continent. In that sense, we are none the wiser, as ideally the match should have been played on a surface that is common to the region.

If it is necessary to have grass on the track for the pink ball, then I do not think it is a practical idea. In that case, people may opt for one or two pink-ball Tests from among 10 regular Tests for the sake of novelty. But what we are actually looking for is a pink-ball Test series. And for that to happen here, you have to play a lot of pink-ball cricket on flat and wearing tracks which is the actual situation here. The grass-less condition exists in a whole lot of countries, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and even in the West Indies. So, you really need to experiment with the ball on hard, rough surfaces.

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The dew factor is also a bit of a dampener for day-night Tests. This would mean that initially you will have to find venues that do not have the dew problem. Later on, you can have the anti-dew technology in place to rule out the extent of this problem. That is about installing a special system underground to dry out the dew. If the future of Test cricket is pink ball, then I do not see any reason why we cannot have this technology in place at Test venues.

Now the question is, will this effort bring in the crowds? The fact remains that if you have to come and watch a pink-ball Test, you need to take half-day off in any case when you have a 2.30 p.m. start. I guess it will work initially because of its novelty, but I am not sure of it in the long run. I am not sure whether spectators will come for the love of seeing a Test match or it will be just for the sake of newness — the pink ball and the lights.

Along with the pink ball, we have to think of how to make Test cricket attractive. So far, the cricket fan has been ignored in India. The seats are not guaranteed, good food is not readily available in the ground and the bathrooms are in abject condition. The police restrict you from taking your belongings inside the stadium and overall, it is not a pleasant experience for a family coming to watch cricket. We need to work on making watching cricket a nice family outing, just as it is abroad. The BCCI needs to work on fan comfort. This should extend to even first-class matches, which also need to be made attractive for the game to survive in all formats.

As far as I am concerned, the first pink-ball match has indeed been a bit of a success. We have to wait and see how the ball plays on rough and hard surfaces, and whether the spinners too will get assistance from the ball. You cannot rule out spinners, they are an integral part of the game.

(As told to Amitabha Das Sharma)