In concocting the right environment for the inaugural day-night Test, Cricket Australia were primarily concerned with preserving the pink ball and maintaining balance between bat and ball. As with any experiment, there has been an unintended consequence: the cricketers of Australia and New Zealand have been transported as if by magic to England.
The tone of the cricket played at Adelaide Oval over the past two days has resembled nothing so much as the sort of play witnessed during the third and fourth Ashes Tests earlier this year. The 8mm of grass left on the pitch and the lush outfield have kept the ball in fine and visible condition; these conditions have also kept the ball seaming throughout, and then swinging sharply once the chill evening air and floodlights have taken effect.
Upon hearing that this sort of a pitch was in the offing for Adelaide, Ricky Ponting noted critically: "You can't in Adelaide, just because you're using a pink ball, leave a heap more grass on the pitch. We want the pitches and the grounds to keep their identity and characteristics. You can't just go mucking around with things like that, because that changes the whole way the game's played."
The "mucking around" has created a scenario the Australian team had not envisaged for the summer; most have spoken of their experiences at Edgbaston, Trent Bridge and the Oval in terms of remembering them for the next visit to the far side of the world. But in Adelaide, they have been confronted by a scenario in which the failures of that trip have been quickly revisited. There have been contrasting fortunes as a result.
Having bowled and fielded grandly on the opening day, the hosts were able to round up New Zealand for 202. That then had the effect of forcing the batsmen out in the most difficult of the conditions, as the new ball swerved in the evening, in the eminently capable hands of Tim Southee and Trent Boult. What followed was a useful run-down of where each Australian batsman has got to by way of handling the moving ball.
Having scored so prolifically in Brisbane and Perth, on pitches sharing more in common with King William Road than Adelaide Oval, David Warner did not prosper long. He had noted that England had made him tighter to begin an innings to his benefit in the first two Tests, but this time around, he was seen to be pushing at the ball with his hands well out in front of his body.
Joe Burns survived for a more substantial 41 balls, and was unlucky to be dismissed when his inside edge grazed the top of the bails. It was not a major innings, but it did at least take some of the lacquer from the pink ball - something he had also managed on a seam bowler's day at Lord's during the ODI series that followed the Ashes, impressing Steven Smith by the manner in which he did so.
Smith and Adam Voges were duly able to get some sort of platform established, and 2 for 54 at stumps on day one was a reasonable base for day two. However, they found Southee and Boult able to get the ball moving again when play resumed, and Voges was to be foiled by that very bend.
In England, Voges had settled on a plan of playing the ball as late as possible, and prospered through this in his final two innings of the series. But here Southee pitched as full as possible, and a tentative Voges blade resulted in an edge where more assertiveness might have brought a boundary.
Shaun Marsh, too, spent the latter part of the England tour working on his defensive technique in these conditions. His failure here was not a matter of batting technique but of running. As related by Chris Rogers in radio commentary, Marsh has been spoken to in the past about needing to be bolder and louder in his calling. This time a moment's indecision allowed Brendon McCullum a narrow window in which to accomplish a brilliant run out: the reactions of Marsh's parents told a painful story.
That brought Mitchell Marsh to the crease, and he showed once more that a certain stiffness of movement and rigidness of back makes him vulnerable to the moving ball. The delivery he edged from Doug Bracewell did shape away nicely, but the bat was searching for the ball in a manner always likely to bring an edge. If he is to be persevered with, he has much work to do.
Better was seen from Smith and Peter Nevill, who brought the only real substance to an innings that was reprieved enormously by Nathan Lyon's bizarre DRS escape. Smith's technique is presently well in sync, and he seldom looked in trouble against the seamers, only to surrender his wicket with a wild charge down the pitch at Mark Craig. Like his keeping, Nevill's batting is neat and full of learning. He needs only to find a willing partner to go on from the 66 he fashioned here.
The fight from the tail gave Australia's bowlers something to work with and a beneficial time in which to do it. While shorn of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Marsh combined admirably, their overlapping spells making use of a swerving ball and freshening pitch to take regular New Zealand wickets. Hazlewood was particularly sharp, controlling the movement of the ball and posing consistent questions.
It had little to do with the bowling that New Zealand were ultimately able to wriggle to 5 for 116 at stumps. Two catches downed in the slips, both by Smith, kept the match open. The captain may well sleep fitfully tonight, knowing there remains a chance that this manufactured form of England will carry similar regrets to the real one.