New pink ball prototype gets Shield trial
A fresh prototype of the pink ball will be trialled during the next day-night Sheffield Shield round later this summer, as negotiations intensify around more flood-lit Test cricket in 2016-17.
The salient criticism of the Adelaide Test between Australia and New Zealand centred on the seam, which most players found fiendishly difficult to see under lights. In another departure from years of traditional ball design, the new pink ball will have an all-black seam in the hope that this will be simpler to pick up.
Cricket Australia's operations manager Sean Cary said that the ball was currently being manufactured in sufficient qualities to service round seven of the Shield, to be played in Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth from February 14-17. The Gabba is under consideration for a day-night Test of its own next season.
"The major criticism has been around trying to see the seam of the ball, especially under lights, so we've got a prototype now with an all-black seam," Cary told ESPNcricinfo. "That includes the closing seam, which has traditionally always been white no matter what colour ball it is.
"Kookaburra have worked to ensure the strength in that closing seam is as strong as just a natural linen thread they use. The plan is to have that ball manufactured over the next couple of weeks and put in place for round seven of the Shield, which is going to be another day-night round, to try out the Gabba under their new lights and give Adelaide another crack."
Mitchell Starc, an ardent critic of the pink ball before the Adelaide match, said much progress had been made but more was needed, both in terms of the colour of the seam and the durability of the ball. "The guys are still saying they can't see the seam," he said. "I still think when you're preparing a wicket to protect the ball, there's your issue.
"I think the ball has come a long way and Kookaburra are doing a great job there but there still might be a few things to tinker with. I think they are tinkering with the colour of the seam this season. That might even help some more. So, I think the ball has come a long way in the last way in the last couple of years but I'd like to see the wickets keep their own characteristics and not have to change for the cricket ball."
CA have been in discussions with the boards of Pakistan and South Africa about next summer, while also having talks with the players about venues. It is possible that two day-night Tests will be played, the last of the South Africa series and the first of the Pakistan series, but this would necessitate moving the Gabba from its traditional slot as the first Test of the summer. The last time a Test season opened away from Brisbane was as far back as 1993-94, when Perth kicked off the season.
"The conversations continue with Pakistan, as they do with most of the countries we're playing with in the not too distant future," Cary said. "We'd really like to stage another day-night Test match next summer, and whether that's against South Africa or Pakistan is still to be decided."
James Sutherland, the CA chief executive, has also spoken hopefully of scheduling a day-night Test during the next Ashes summer in 2017-18. "The Adelaide Test against New Zealand last year was clearly a success," he said. "It was proof of concept and I think it sent a message around the world that the future of Test cricket lies partly in day-night Test cricket.
"Not wholly, but in the right place at the right time and in the right conditions there are opportunities for us to play more day-night cricket not just here in Australia but in other parts of the world. On the assumption we play a day-night Test match next summer, or two, that we will progress that further and it will be more of a fixture on our calendar, needless to say the summer after that is an Ashes summer and that just established tradition will continue.
"I know that the chairman and chief executive of the ECB are good men, very progressive in their thinking about the game and I know Tom Harrison the CEO with his background in media he will certainly understand that growing the popularity of the game is first and foremost in our minds as cricket administrators."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig