Chadd Sayers, the local boy
No-one knows the subtleties of the pink Kookaburra ball and the drop-in Adelaide Oval pitch quite like Chadd Sayers. As South Australia's precision spearhead, he has confounded the best of the nation's batsmen by seaming and swinging the ball both in sunshine and under lights, plucking no fewer than 40 wickets in five matches in Adelaide last season.
More recently, Sayers delivered an exemplary spell to Australia's captain Steven Smith in their Sheffield Shield encounter at the start of this month. Finding plenty of seam movement away from the bat in the evening air, Sayers repeatedly squared Smith up and had him creeping further and further across his crease. That sequence of jabs set Smith up for the ideal knockout punch, a swifter, fuller delivery arrowed in at the stumps to win an lbw verdict that was straightforward, despite the captain's protests.
"It is just about challenging the batsmen's defence," Sayers said of bowling with the pink ball. "They hate the swinging ball, so if you pitch it up and challenge their defence 100% of the time then they have to make a decision. Batsmen nowadays just want to score and keep the game moving forward. If you are challenging their defence all the time and bowling good balls, it is hard to do that. Moving the ball, batsmen don't like it. A good ball is a good ball to anyone."
Not particularly tall, nor particularly fast, Sayers has always seemed to need to work harder than others for recognition at the next level, whether it was in junior, club or first-class ranks. Having played for Australia A as long ago as 2013, Sayers came within a hair's breadth of selection for the day-night Test against South Africa last year, and is again at the mercy of the selectors - and team medical staff monitoring the workload of Pat Cummins - this time around.
"If they did want to rest [one of the fast bowlers] this would be the Test to do it," he said. "I'll be training the house down and doing everything in my favour, and if it does happen it would be a dream come true. It does get a bit frustrating after putting the performances on the board and not having played a Test Match - mixing cordial isn't what I want to do."
James Anderson, the visiting pro
Making the ball talk is James Anderson's specialty, but he has always struggled to get the same level of responsiveness from the Kookaburra that he enjoys with the Dukes. Save for a few moments to remember in 2010-11, Anderson's Australian story is largely one of struggle, in long and unrewarding spells with a ball that in terms of talk recalls nothing so much as Kevin Pietersen's "I can't hear you mate" pantomime in Alice Springs four years ago.
However, the pink ball and Adelaide's grass coverage, which has been expertly exploited by Sayers, offers Anderson an environment quite unlike the vast majority of those he has found Down Under. Though the surface was on the slow side, the signs Anderson gleaned from England's Adelaide tour match were decidedly promising for his art.
"It was pretty good conditions for bowlers. Not sure if the pitch will be similar to that, it was a very slow wicket and not dissimilar to Brisbane actually. I've heard this one is going to be different, but we'll have to wait and see what we get on Saturday. People think it's going to be a good week to bowl, but you've still got to bowl well when conditions are in your favour.
"All we can do is bowl with the attack we've got. We are not going to become 90mph-plus bowlers, so we have to try and work out ways of getting wickets on certain pitches with the attack we've got. We did that in the first innings in Brisbane, using our skills brilliantly but we didn't quite drive home that advantage when we got them in a tough position. Here is somewhere where we can use our skills - pink ball, under lights, something different. It could be somewhere that will really suit our bowling attack.
"It is the same difference between a red Dukes and a red Kookaburra - the seam is slightly different and it's a different ball. The red Kookaburra and the pink Kookaburra are not that different. That's how we look at it. From bowlers' point of view, the pink Kookaburra is not that different and we will go about it the same way."
Plans and precision are key to England's attack, using the accuracy of Anderson and Stuart Broad in particular alongside the tactical imagination of Joe Root. "I think the encouraging thing for us is that we came up with plans for all their batsmen before the series started and probably 70% of them worked - which was encouraging and we can build on that," Anderson said. "But there is still that small matter of someone making 140-odd and that is something we have to deal with. We know the dangers of David Warner up at the top as well and we have to keep working hard to try and get them out because we know how pivotal they are in their line-up."
There is optimism, too, in how England have adapted to day-night matches after playing one such Test against West Indies this year, followed by the tour match. "Absolutely from a game management point of view, it was definitely a useful tool, and the day/night game we played here was helpful as well," Anderson said. "Batsmen trying to get their eyes adjusted to that difficult period in the evening when the lights are beginning to take effect, bowlers figuring out when to attack and when to sit back a little bit. Those sorts of things will be crucial when it comes to a Test like this."
Peter Handscomb, the batsman
It was C.S. Lewis who wrote: "Experience is the most brutal of teachers but you learn, my God, do you learn." Experience of the pink ball and the floodlit environs of Adelaide Oval loom as a decided advantage for Australia, not least for the batsmen who must make arguably the most difficult transition from day into night.
This time last year, Peter Handscomb made his Test debut in exactly these conditions, but quickly showed himself to be at home with the different challenge, even if his back-in-the-crease method encourages plenty of bowlers to think they have a strong chance to bend the ball into his stumps or pads. Knowing what lies ahead is a great source of comfort for Handscomb and the rest of the Australians.
"It's a huge [advantage] for us. We've played with the pink Kookaburra now for a long time and we've seen it change over time and understand what it does do," he said. "Especially here in Adelaide, playing a few games. So it's a good advantage for us and England haven't played many games or trained much against the pink Kookaburra, so it's a different ball game for them."
As captain of Victoria, Handscomb can also see the tactical side of the game, with its emphasis on avoiding as much time batting in the more treacherous evening session as possible while trying to ensure your opponent does much the opposite. "Yeah, obviously there seems to be a real focus on the night session," he said. "Whether that's the atmosphere livening up the grass on the wicket or whether the ball actually swings a little bit more, we're still trying to figure that out.
"But if you're an 'in' batter, during that time you can actually still make a lot of runs, you can bat well, the ball can slide on a little bit, so it's got a bit of both the edge in the night session and other times it almost holds a little bit and it can happen quickly."
Damian Hough, the curator
All the aforementioned drama will play out under the seminal influence of the man who prepares the pitch - Adelaide Oval's curator Damian Hough. In working as the custodian of the ground ever since it moved to drop-in pitches in 2013, Hough has been at the pointy end of global pitch development, and has been successfully able to balance the competing demands of football, cricket, broadcasters, administrators and players.
This time around there is another complicating factor in the shape of forecast heavy rain. This has meant Hough's pitch is a day drier in preparation than it would normally be, but with the same height of grass cut - six millimeters - as provided for both last year's Test match and the South Australia-New South Wales Shield fixture in which Sayers and Mitchell Starc both proved destructive.
"Feedback was pretty good for that one, so it's the same sort of technique, same cutting heights, everything else, we're just trying to replicate last year's [Test] pitch," Hough said. "We have worked on it being prepared a day earlier based on, we don't want to put under covers with any softness to the pitch just in case we can't get it dried out. It's tracking pretty similar to last year, maybe a fraction [more] dried out."
One of Hough's key findings in working on drop-in pitches is that while it is difficult to create the same level of five-day deterioration offered by a traditional surface square, the sort of grass coverage he has fostered means the ball will both seam and spin throughout. The variable is to do with exactly how much it does this, the better to afford a balance between batsmen and bowlers.
"We can't control the pink ball, so that's one thing we can't control. There's a set of challenges with the weather. We can't really control the weather. We're going to be low 20s with a bit of moisture around. So I'm not sure if that will have an effect. From our end, it's a coarse, mattier type of grass. Try to push all that grass in to try and get as much moisture in your pitch as you can and roll it all in and get that compaction right and then harden it up so it's hard and dry. So if we can tick those boxes, it's [going to be] a good even contest.
"We just want a good, even contest. We probably want some pace and bounce, as much as Adelaide can offer. We can't give as much as other states have got. But for us, we still want spin to play a part. You're probably not seeing the deterioration as you used to five, 10 years ago. But if we can get a good contest, once the batters are in, hopefully they can still cash in. Probably the main one is to make sure the batters can still score out there, get that balance right."