Pink-ball experiment hits Sheffield Shield
Australian cricket is ready for its own twilight saga. This week's round of Sheffield Shield matches will be played with pink balls under floodlights and Cricket Australia hopes it will be the first step towards hosting a day-night Test in less than two years, most likely against New Zealand in 2015-16. But exactly what it will deliver over the next four days is a mystery.
The main question surrounds the visibility of the balls as the sun goes down, and their longevity throughout an innings. Will fielders and batsmen be able to pick them up under lights? Will they swing? Will they need to be changed throughout the innings? By the end of the week, those questions will have been addressed and James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia CEO, hopes a greater number of day-night games will be scheduled next summer.
"The endgame here is to explore opportunities for Test cricket to be played as day-night matches," Sutherland said. "We want to be satisfied that the conditions in Australia are good enough. There's no doubt we'll learn a bit next week and hopefully we'll have greater confidence that this concept can work.
"It's about securing the future relevance of Test cricket as a sport of choice not just here but all around the world. Hopefully, next week will prove to be a step in the right direction. Without conducting trials in serious first-class competition, we won't know how far away we are. That's why next week's matches are an important advancement in our plans."
Whether the pink ball proves an advancement for the quality of batting on display remains to be seen. Test opener Chris Rogers is colour blind and said he would not play in a pink-ball match again after being part of a trial in Abu Dhabi, while Victoria's captain Matthew Wade, who also has a form of colour-blindness, is unsure how he will go when the lights kick in at the MCG against Tasmania.
"I just had a little net [session] and it seems all right," Wade said on Friday afternoon. "I think the interesting thing will be when the lights come on. That will be the challenge for me, I think. I'm pretty good with the red and the green, but when it's an off-colour I struggle to pick the ball up as quick. I can still see it fine, but it's a bit more blurred than what it normally is. It's pretty good during the day. We'll just have to see how it goes at night."
It is not the first time day-night Sheffield Shield cricket has been trialled. Yellow and orange balls were experimented with during the 1990s but the yellow was difficult to see and the orange looked as if it had a comet-like tail when moving through the air. Nor is it the first time pink balls have been used for day-night first-class cricket.
Beginning in 2009-10, occasional domestic first-class games in the West Indies have been played under lights with pink balls, and it was also trialled for the first time in a county match when Kent played Glamorgan in September 2011. Kent batsman Joe Denly said that the first ball he faced swung but after that it did nothing in the air, and lost its brightness very quickly.
Michael di Venuto, who is now Australia's batting coach, scored 131 in a floodlit pink-ball first-class match for Durham in Abu Dhabi in March 2010 and he said it was "easy to pick the ball up, especially at the start when it was really good". South African batsman Morne van Wyk, who scored 125 in a pink-ball trial in Potchefstroom in 2012, said batting was particularly difficult as the sun went down but became easier as conditions darkened.
The round of day-night matches begins on Monday with Victoria hosting Tasmania at the MCG, Queensland playing Western Australia at the Gabba and South Australia hosting New South Wales at Adelaide Oval. The Queensland captain James Hopes said teams might have to adjust their tactics to account for the different ball and playing hours.
"If the pitch is even a little bit flat, I reckon you have got to bat first because you really want to bat in the daylight," Hopes told the Courier-Mail. "The great unknown is the night time. Maybe if you bat first and get seven or eight wickets down, you might declare and send them in for a few overs at night."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here