South Africa news September 6, 2012

CSA raises doubts about pink ball


The quality and condition of the pink ball has emerged as the major concern from the day-night match played under first-class conditions in Potchefstroom.

The match, between North West and the Knights, was Cricket South Africa's way of trialling the idea of playing the longer version at night, something that was discussed at the ICC's most recent annual conference. It ended in a draw after heavy rains washed out the fourth day, but the issues that emerged from the first longer-form fixture played under lights in the country overshadowed the result.

"It seems as though as the ball does not last very long. It will have to be investigated more if cricket is played this way in future," Jacques Faul, acting chief executive of CSA told ESPNCricinfo.

The pink ball became the talking point after the first innings, during which it was changed five times in 112 overs. Despite the Knights amassing 562 runs, their coach, Sarel Cilliers, was unimpressed. "As soon as the ball gets scuffed up, it loses colour," Cilliers said. "Other than that it behaved like a normal ball and didn't lose shape but I can't see the ball manufacturers getting it right."

His opposite number, Monty Jacobs, was also not convinced that the pink ball could facilitate the demands of the longer format. "It scuffs easily and gets gratings and, it doesn't shine like a red ball. With it being changed quite often, you lose that element of swing in the middle overs," he said.

It was not only the seamers who struggled to get the pink ball to talk. Jacobs said the spinners also had problems with it. "They struggled to grip the ball at times. So eventually it became a bit like a one-day ball with the spinners just darting it in instead of trying to spin it."

Match referee, Devdas Govindjee, who presided over the captains and coaches' reports and will present them to CSA, had a more complex argument to explain why the ball was changed so often. He said the officiating panel debated it at length and came to the conclusion that colour was not the only problem. He also clarified that the first ball change occurred because of a split seam.

"After that we changed it on average every 25 overs. We have to remember that it was the first time anyone was doing this so there was also some uncertainty at times. If you look at day two, we only changed the ball once, which is normal, I would say. So we learnt as we went along. "On day one, there were various reasons that the ball was scuffing like that. It could have been because the bowling side did not look after the ball too well, for example. The other reason may have been because of the pitch, which was more abrasive on day one."

Govindjee's comments on the pitch also highlighted another concern about day-night first-class cricket - how to tend to the surface. With the match being played early in the South African season, when rain has been scarce until now, the strip was always expected to be dry but could become even more lifeless in a day-night match considering the amount of time it will spend uncovered.

The covers on the first day were removed at 7am - the normal time for a first-class match starting at 10am. That gave the pitch seven hours of sunshine before play began at 2pm. On the second day, the covers were only removed at 12:30, an hour and half before the start and the ball behaved differently.

"There is a fine balance that has to be achieved when you decide about the covers. If you keep them on too long, they will sweat, but you also can't remove them too early," Govindjee said. If the pitch is left without protection from early morning it will, as Jacobs put it, "give you an eight-day old pitch by day four."

The removal of the covers early on the first day could have contributed in some way to the ball degradation but all three men interviewed by ESPNCricinfo stressed that the ball remained the "main issue." Its neon nature also contributed to difficulty with visibility, which affected both the batting and fielding sides.

It has to be luminous, because that's good for sight, but that means it creates an illusion as well and leaves a tail.
Sarel Cilliers, Knights coach

"It has to be luminous, because that's good for sight, but that means it creates an illusion as well and leaves a tail," Cilliers said. "The batsmen couldn't pick it up, especially in the twilight period, when it is already quite difficult to see." Morne van Wyk, the Knights captain, who scored 125, specifically mentioned sunset as the time when his innings became the most difficult.

Jacobs' charges dropped five catches as darkness approached and although he was careful not to blame that on the ball alone, said the problems with "depth perception," also led to butter fingers. "You can see the ball but you can't see the edges," he said.

Along with trouble with vision, the players also had to contend with unusual hours, with play ending after 9:30pm to make up time. Compared to a one-day game that starts at 2:30pm and can end well after 11pm, it's not too bad, but to operate on those hours for four consecutive days is something both coaches thought was a challenge.

"There is too much dead time in the morning," Cilliers said. "You can't do any sort of conditioning then either." Jacobs said he told his players to try and "sleep in until 11am," but most found it unnatural and ended up with little to do in the morning. "It's just a waste of good daylight," he said.

Both were also concerned about the costs involved in playing day-night cricket over four days. With electricity prices constantly rising in South Africa and power cuts, although not the notorious load shedding of four years ago, still fairly common, they both said playing cricket with natural light made more environmental sense too.

Faul said CSA would take everything, including the bill, into consideration when they conduct their assessment of the match. While he accepted that the game itself was a "mismatch," because it was contested between a professional franchise and an amateur provincial team, he said the exercise itself was worthwhile.

"The ICC encouraged us to try this and we did. We can now give them a bit of feedback," Faul said. But he confessed that the green light from cricket's governing body was not the only reason South Africa are interested in the possibility of playing the longer game at night. "When we play some of the lower ranked Test teams we don't get bums on seats, especially on the Thursday or Friday of the match. We wanted to see if this can help that?"

Cilliers and Jacobs don't think it can. Potchefstroom's popular student crowd did not go to the match in droves despite it being advertised on multiple platforms. "Some people came dressed colourfully because they expected a T20 or a one-day game, because they heard it was at night. When they heard it was a first-class game, they left," Jacobs said. "It's the longer version, every ball can't be action packed and that's what they wanted. The atmosphere was actually a bit like those dead overs in a one-day game."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tim on September 9, 2012, 12:59 GMT

    @getsetgopk I havern't seen a lot of cricket from South Africa, not having pay-TV, but what I have seen has often been included very heavy dew in night games. From memory, Port Elizabeth had an outfield more like after a solid rain delay a couple of times.

    Apart from the ball, that is my biggest concern with day-night First Class and Test cricket. Some places will be suited, if the ball issue is sorted and lighting is up to scratch; others won't, and dew is one of the main reasons why. No doibt, we would then get television networks forcing matches to be played in sub-standard conditions.

  • Jason on September 7, 2012, 17:29 GMT

    @edgie, as far as im aware Lunch is only 40 minutes, and tea is 20 minutes...however, it was Interesting reading the comments about the Pink ball getting scuffed up so quickly on day 1, especailly considering the Pink ball has been used in MCC games in the UAE without similar incidents happening, but it seems that this is the same problem for with all balls except the standard balls which is probably more to to with Leather being naturally a dark-red/brown colour so it doesnt get as noticably discoloured.

  • Shakti on September 7, 2012, 13:47 GMT

    Day/Night first class cricket is simply foolish.Test cricket in S.A gets enough crowds to remain as it is.

  • Lesley on September 7, 2012, 11:30 GMT

    In South Africa this will never work anytime soon as it quickly gets dark at night especially in the highveld, unlike what what i just witnessed in England where it gets dark so late maybe day/night test in places that get dark late have a better chance than in South Africa nonetheless it would be great if it could work some time soon.

  • Stanton on September 7, 2012, 10:45 GMT

    I aggree wit Hexagram, why not start all tests between 9am and 10am local time? and why such a LOONG lunch and tea? 30 min each should be adequate. And also this thing that both teams must aggree that the lights can be used is nonsense, it should be used by default when light becomes questionable, which in itself should not be an isue if tests were started earlier anyway, there shoudl onyl be a handful of overs that would have to be bowled under lights. Not like you have to bowl 30 overs under full floodlights...

  • Dummy4 on September 7, 2012, 7:44 GMT

    @ Bharat Sinha, Mate you forgot that First Class Cricket is played in white kits. So white ball obviously will have serious visibility problems ! Playing day-night first cricket will have some issues, but in longer run, it can be a good innovation.

  • Amjad on September 7, 2012, 7:43 GMT

    I understand most of it but the spinners had trouble gripping the ball? Why would they have trouble gripping the ball? Was there dew around or something?

  • Dummy4 on September 7, 2012, 5:58 GMT

    why cant play with white ball its self and change it after over 50 ?? The is no need to go for other color ...?????

  • Graydon on September 7, 2012, 5:11 GMT

    Should just forget about day/night Tests and start matches a bit earlier each day. Think about it; Tests usually start around 11am-ish, at least in New Zealand and by the end of the day teams are usually 10 overs short, so if you stared play at 9 or 10am, you'd easily have enough day light to fit 90 overs into a day. More overs to bowl = less draws, thus more exciting cricket. I know they want to play the games at night to get more people to the grounds, but to do so you essentially have to change a key part of the whole game. The red ball has been used in Tests for well over 100 years, I don't really think it should, or needs to be changed

  • Dummy4 on September 6, 2012, 17:46 GMT

    Logical step would be to start the game in the morning but start the telecast of any kind to any media in the afternoon and end it in the evening?

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