Pink balls could lead to 'very, very boring cricket'
Australia's cricketers have collectively called "dead ball" on the pink Kookaburras used in day-night Sheffield Shield matches last summer. Dead, that is, in the sense of being lifeless and dull. As Cricket Australia and New Zealand Cricket discussed plans to go ahead with a day-night Test in either Adelaide or Hobart next year, the Australian Cricketers' Association raised concerns over the viability of the pink balls likely to be used.
After last season's trial, which involved a full round of day-night Shield matches in March, the ACA surveyed players to assess whether the concept had been a success, and how the pink balls had performed. The results were far from convincing. Only 24% of players surveyed said they believed day-night Tests should be played in future, and just 11% declared the day-night Shield matches a success.
ACA chief executive Paul Marsh said the major concern of players was that the balls offered little movement for the bowlers, yet also proved hard for batsmen to score against. He said that while Cricket Australia was to be commended for trialing the concept and that the players were open to further experimentation, rushing into day-night Tests without further improvements to the ball could prove detrimental to the game.
"The ball itself, they [the players] were quite critical of it," Marsh told ESPNcricinfo. "The general feedback was that it went soft very quickly, the ball didn't swing, it didn't seam, it didn't reverse swing. So it became a ball that was very difficult to get batsmen out with, but it was also difficult to score runs because it got soft quickly.
"The thing the game probably needs to look at here is that given the way the ball performed, the risk is that with no movement and the ball getting very soft, it could result in a very, very boring game of cricket. That's the risk. It might increase the excitement levels by having a day-night Test match, but you may actually lose out by having a ball that doesn't do anything.
"That's something that they've got to keep working on. The first day-night Test match, no matter what the ball is I'm sure people will turn up and it will rate well because it's new, but you've got to look beyond the first one or two games and look at the sustainability of it. I'd encourage them to keep investing in trying to find a ball that fits the purpose, because at the moment our view is that the pink ball is not."
Last summer's Shield matches were played in Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane, and Adelaide looms as a likely venue for the inaugural day-night Test in November 2015. Cricket Australia said earlier this year that the trial at the Gabba had been less successful than at other venues as the ground's lights were different and made the ball harder to see, and another round of day-night Shield games will be played next summer in Adelaide, Perth and Hobart.
Work will continue on the pink ball but the boards of both Australia and New Zealand appear intent on introducing day-night Test cricket next year. After last summer's trial, 51% of players surveyed by the ACA said they did not believe day-night Test cricket should be played in the future, while 24% said it should be and 26% said they were unsure.
When asked if the pink ball had shown similar signs of wear and tear to the traditional red Kookaburra ball, 94% of players said it had not. Approximately 89% said the pink balls had not shown similar characteristics such as swing and seam movement as a red Kookaburra. Only 25% of players said they believed the pink balls provided a fair contest between bat and ball.
Cricket Australia's chief executive, James Sutherland, said that while every effort would be made to bring the pink balls as close as possible in characteristics to a red ball, they would never be quite the same. Marsh said he hoped work would continue on that before day-night matches came to Test cricket.
"The players are supportive of trialing the concept," Marsh said. "The players initially didn't think it was a good idea. They warmed to it ... but the problem has always been the ball and now that we've had the trials last year, the feedback from the players wasn't particularly positive around the ball.
"We're still very open to the trialing of it. We certainly commend Cricket Australia on trialing it. We think there's a little bit of a way to go yet before the ball is ready for Test cricket."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale