Players say pink ball still a work in progress

Suresh Raina tosses the pink ball to bowler Ashok Dinda AFP

The durability of the pink ball and its visibility under lights remain concerns for some of the players who featured in the recently-concluded Duleep Trophy. They felt the experiment needed to be carried out further in domestic cricket before India could host its first day-night Test match.

In the first match of the tournament, between India Red and India Green, the ball largely passed the visibility test, but the success came with a caveat: the game was played on a grassy pitch and lush outfield.

In fact, players admitted to being surprised by how the ball retained its glaze for long periods, and even complained that it took reverse-swing, an integral aspect of seam bowling in subcontinental conditions, out of play. The main issue that came up during the first two games was the ball going out of shape and having to be changed frequently.

In the later stages of the tournament, the BCCI decided to try the pink ball on drier and more abrasive pitches more akin to conditions usually found in India. This time the ball didn't just lose shape, but also colour. India Red's Abhinav Mukund, who scored a half-century and a century in the first match, said he faced difficulty in sighting the ball once it lost its sheen.

"That [visibility under lights] is a big factor," Abhinav told ESPNcricinfo. "When it is scuffed up, the colour of the ball goes from pink to greyish. When you apply any natural substance on it, like sweat or saliva, it becomes black-ish. And when it hits the boundary ropes, it becomes even more grey-ish and then you have to change the ball."

Dinesh Karthik, who scored 55 in India Blue's first innings in the final, said he couldn't pick the scuffed-up ball, and had to ask the umpires to take a look and possibly consider changing it. "I faced Nathu [Singh] and I didn't pick a couple of balls," Karthik said. "I couldn't especially see a full-toss that took the edge of the bat and went for a boundary. I went and asked the umpire and he had a look and realised that the ball was scuffed up and it was really hard to pick."

Both Abhinav and Karthik acknowledged the difficulty in spotting the seam, especially when the wristspinners were bowling. Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored an unbeaten 256 in the final, also mentioned this during the presentation ceremony, saying he had found it harder ot pick the googly.

It became quite evident when India Red's Gurkeerat Singh and Stuart Binny were trying to hit their way out of trouble in the final against the spinners, often struggling to pick Karn Sharma's googly. Neither batsman, despite scoring half-centuries, was fully in control, and often stepped out of the crease to neutralise the break.

As a solution to the problem, Abhinav suggested that the colour of the seam be changed from black to something brighter. "Maybe a different kind of leather, and a different colour of seam - maybe neon or something? Also, maybe you can change the ball at 60 overs instead of 80 overs."

India Blue seamer Pankaj Singh felt replacing the scuffed-up ball owing to poor visibility took reverse-swing out of play. "On [dry] wickets like these [in the final], you try to get the batsman out by reversing the ball, but whether this ball will reverse is difficult [to say]," he said. "If this ball deteriorates or scuffs up too much it has to be changed and if doesn't scuff you can't reverse it."

Left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav, who finished as the tournament's leading wicket-taker with 17 scalps from three games, said the pink ball drifted and dipped, but didn't turn much. India Blue coach and former India offspinner Aashish Kapoor felt negating the impact of the dew would be the biggest factor in determining the future of day-night Test cricket in India.

"In India cricket is a winter sport. If Test matches are going to be held during winter and dew comes in, it's a big factor," Kapoor said. "People keep talking but unless you play you don't realise how wet the ball it gets - it is like a soap bar in your hands. If in a Test match, you are going to play three hours under lights when the dew comes in at 6 or 7 [pm], and you are having a soap bar, your bowlers are out for three out of the six hours of the game."

Gautam Gambhir, the India Blue captain, cited his team-mate Pujara's experience while suggesting that the ball changed its behaviour under lights. "Pujara thought it behaves differently during the day-time and it behaves differently during the night, especially with the pace of the ball and the ball skidding through [for the seamers]," he said. "The conditions change completely when the game starts at 2 pm, and obviously the conditions are completely different when the artificial lights take over."

Karthik concurred with Gambhir's view, and said the ball felt heavier while he kept wicket under lights. "During the day, the ball feels a little lighter when it hits the glove, and it doesn't actually sting as much," he said. "But, in the evening I did realise that even though there has not been much dew, the ball for some strange reason gets that much harder and hits the glove a little harder for the medium pacers. That's why you can see there has been a template where short balls have got wickets in the last session because I think the ball skids on a little more."

In the final, Pankaj's two-wicket burst early in India Red's first innings featured deliveries that skidded off the surface quicker than expected, under lights. Both Abhinav and Sudip Chatterjee were beaten for pace, and it didn't appear that the cracks on the pitch had much to do with either dismissal.

The ball used for the Duleep Trophy was the pink Kookaburra. Karthik said there was a case for SG, which manufactures the ball used in India's first-class and Test cricket, developing a pink ball for Indian conditions. "If they can come up with a pink ball which is more suited to Indian conditions, which I am sure they will start trying in time, it will be interesting to see how that ball compares to the pink Kookaburra," he said. "A red SG ball has more to offer in Indian conditions than a red Kookaburra; the same could be the case with the pink ball."

While night cricket isn't an uncommon phenomenon for most Indian cricketers, the likes of Robin Uthappa have found playing at night for four or five days in a row physically taxing. "If I had to make a suggestion, if we could play the game more towards the evening, that would make the game more even-stevens," Uthappa said during the first game between India Red and India Green. "If we can have a specific stop-timeā€¦ and if you have lost time make sure you start earlier. What I have noticed it is the boys get tired; generally we play from 9.30 [am] to 4.30 [pm], and we have a few hours before going to sleep. In this format, you don't have time for recovery."

Karthik echoed Uthappa's views and said playing a day-night Ranji Trophy match, which the BCCI has proposed, would make for an interesting challenge. "Right now we are probably sleeping at midnight and waking up at 10 -10:30 am," Karthik said. "For that one [day-night] game we can do that, but when you go to the next venue you go to the normal game and you wake up at 6- 6:30 [am] to get ready. So, these are the challenges you need to get accustomed to."

Karthik, however, felt pink-ball cricket was here to stay given the spectator interest it drew - the attendances were upwards of 3000 steadily through the tournament. "If the crowds are a yardstick to go by in day-night matches, we should give that box a tick. I think it is a great way to bring crowds in."