In the late 2000s, amid growing concern over dwindling viewership for Test matches, the idea to have day-night Tests began to gain popularity since scheduling ODIs and T20s in the evenings seemed to bring people through the turnstiles and also attract a larger TV audience.
Day-night Tests would allow part of the game to be aired at primetime and also allow people to attend the evening session, which is usually after work.
Research began on how to make day-night Tests work. The ball would need to be changed as red might be harder to spot under floodlights. There were experiments with yellow, orange and pink balls, and there was even a suggestion to play with an improved white ball that could last 80 overs with the players wearing coloured kits.
As expected, there was push-back from the traditionalists, who believed that with ODIs and T20s already in existence, the longest form of the game should be left untouched.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced the Lord's Test against Bangladesh in 2010 would be played under lights with a pink ball in use, but their plans were scuppered when the two counties they requested to trial the pink ball in a four-day match, Durham and Worcestershire, refused to do so. "I was not keen. It was a first-class match and I thought we should retain the game's integrity," Durham coach Geoff Cook had said.
The first breakthroughs
As is often the case, women's cricket got the jump on the men's game, with the pink ball being trialed in an England v Australia women's one-day match in 2009. Soon after, in January 2010, a first-class match between Guyana and Trinidad &Tobago in Antigua began in the afternoon and was played with a pink ball.
The ECB finally got their trials, with the 2010 Champion County match between previous season's champions, Durham, and the MCC being played under lights in Abu Dhabi and then Canterbury hosting a pink-ball Division Two County Championship match in 2011. The Pakistan board trialed an orange ball in the 2010-11 final of their premier first-class tournament, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, and switched to a pink one in the 2011-12 final. South Africa and Bangladesh both experimented with pink balls in 2012 and 2013, and in 2014 an entire round of Sheffield Shield matches in Australia were played with a pink Kookaburra ball.
The first pink-ball Test
The first-ever day-night, pink-ball Test was played in Adelaide in November 2015. It turned out to be a low-scoring thriller, with Australia beating New Zealand by just three wickets on day three. With extra grass left on the surface to minimise damage to the pink ball, pace bowlers thrived, particularly at twilight, when the ball swung prodigiously. Cricket Australia declared the event a success and laid out their plans to host more pink-ball Tests. A survey of Australian fans revealed 81% of them would like to see every Test at Adelaide have an afternoon start. The Test also set an attendance record for a non-Ashes Test at the ground.
Pink ball becomes fixture in the Australian calendar while others experiment
Since the first pink-ball Test, there have been ten more, with four in Australia alone. Adelaide now exclusively hosts day-night Tests, with the only exception being the 2018 match against India. The Indian team had refused to play with the pink ball citing lack of experience with it. The Gabba has hosted two, and Perth has one scheduled for 2020.
Dubai, where crowds for Tests are usually sparse, has hosted two day-night Tests, in 2016 and 2017; and there has been one each in England (England v West Indies, Edgbaston, 2017), South Africa (South Africa v Zimbabwe, Port Elizabeth, 2017), New Zealand (New Zealand v England, Auckland, 2018) and the Caribbean (West Indies v Sri Lanka, Bridgetown, 2018).
India arrive late to the party
Worries about the evening dew, what an SG pink ball might behave like, a lack of reverse-swing and the visibility of the ball were among the main reasons the BCCI was reluctant to jump aboard the day-night Test wagon until recently. A pink ball was trialed during the 2016 Duleep Trophy and received mixed reviews from the players. While the selectors and several former India cricketers, among them Sourav Ganguly, encouraged India to have further trials with the pink ball and plan to host Tests with it, the board disagreed. India refused not only to host day-night Tests but also to play them away.
The BCCI had a dramatic turnaround in their stance on pink-ball Tests after Ganguly was elected president in 2019 and made it one of his first items of business. A pink-ball Test between India and Bangladesh was scheduled for November 21 at Eden Gardens, Kolkata.
The potential of pink
Every pink-ball Test so far has had a result. The ball, which is said to swing a bit more, the greener pitches required for pink-ball Tests, and the twilight period that tends to claim several wickets - possibly due to the batsmen having to adapt from natural light to the floodlights - have all played a role.
Initial fears that the pink ball may tip the scale too far in favour of the bowlers have been somewhat quelled. While pink-ball games in Australia still tend to be low-scoring, those in Dubai, England and New Zealand have all seen 400-plus totals.
Are day-night Tests here to stay?
So have day-night Tests fulfilled their chief purpose - to increase viewership? Australia, the only country to fully adopt the pink ball, report excellent viewership numbers for day-night Tests and their board has been encouraging other countries to try them. There has been reluctance, though: England have not hosted a day-night Test since 2017, insisting they get healthy crowds for Tests anyway; Pakistan decided not to schedule a day-night Test in the UAE in 2018, believing day Tests to be better for their spinners in the conditions; and South Africa and Bangladesh have both stated they will not be hosting pink-ball games, mainly due to concerns over the ball.
The results of India's pink-ball experiment could have significant consequences on all teams. Should India make day-night Tests a regular feature of their home season, other touring countries may follow suit or risk not having enough experience with the pink ball.