The Insider

What's the verdict on the pink ball in Indian conditions?

Visibility is good, so is durability, and while it does swing a fair amount, it ought to spin as well

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra
Hardly anything is perfect when tried for the first time, but if you don't ever try anything new, you'll make no progress. It's the same with the pink ball.
In the only day-night Test match played with it, in Adelaide, it swung a little too much under lights. There were issues with the visibility of the seam - the green thread used to stitch the ball together at the time didn't stand out as prominently as the white thread on the red ball did. Also, there were apprehensions about how long the ball would last in slightly drier conditions.
The Cricket Association of Bengal deserves applause for conducting India's first ever multi-day match with the international standard pink Kookaburra ball. While Kookaburra has made significant changes to the ball that was used for the match in Adelaide last year, CAB chose to be slightly cautious (at Kookaburra's behest) and left a reasonable amount of grass on the pitch for the Super League final.
Does it swing too much?
Since there was a decent grass covering on the pitch and the surface was a little moist underneath, everybody expected the ball to move prodigiously, both in the air and off the ground. And it did do a fair bit. There was some swing available in the air for the first 10-12 overs and seam movement till about the 30-35th over. If the bowler was willing to bend his back, he found bounce and carry too.
But before passing judgement that the pink ball moves a lot more than the red, please remember that even the red Kookaburra moves about when it's new. It's the SG Test ball that doesn't move appreciably early on, and so it's unfair to compare its behaviour with that of the pink or red Kookaburra. On the other hand, the SG (if maintained well) keeps moving in the air for a lot longer into a match than the Kookaburra. As far as seam movement is concerned, we can attribute that to the pronounced seam, coupled with extra grass.
The pink ball will swing a lot more at the start of a game than the SG Test ball, but movement in the air and off the surface (assuming Test pitches in India will be quite barren) will disappear after the first hour.
Is it easily visible?
The pink ball passed this test with flying colours. The change Kookaburra has made in the colour of the thread used for the seam, from green to black, has made a significant difference in sighting the ball. I spoke to some of the batsmen who played in the game, and the wicketkeeper, about whether they were able to follow the seam from the bowler's hand, and all of them said that they were.
Some sensational catches were taken in the slip cordon, and that tells us that sighting the pink ball hasn't been an issue for the fielders either. As for the commentators, it has been a lot easier for them to spot the ball under lights as compared to even the white ball.
Does it last?
That's the key question that needed to be addressed in this game. The main reason for India not using the red Kookaburra is its longevity (or lack of it) in Indian conditions. Also, the seam on the traditional Kookaburra is blunted and sinks into the surface of the ball by around the 40th over, which makes it almost impossible for the spinners, especially fingerspinners, to make an impact, since they are not able to grip the ball as well as they otherwise might, and nor does the seam grip the surface of the pitch on landing. Since spin is India's main weapon in the longer format, it's unlikely that any ball that doesn't assist spinners will find favours.
To address this issue, Brent Elliott, the managing director of Kookaburra, informed us (the Star Sports commentary crew) that they have tried to emulate SG by using a thicker thread to stitch the latest version of the pink ball. We followed the ball closely through the game and were pleasantly surprised to find the seam fairly intact even after the 75th over. Unlike the old Kookaburra, the seam on this new ball didn't disappear. It could easily be a combination of the thicker thread and the grassy pitch that enabled the seam to stay intact. So the ball needs to be tested on barren pitches before passing a verdict on this aspect.
In addition to the thick thread, Kookaburra also had four coats of pink on the ball, for it to last the distance. Usually a big issue with playing under lights is that as soon as the top layer of colour comes off, the ball starts picking up dirt and taking on the colour of the grass, and that affects its visibility. But with extra layers of pink added, visibility was not an issue at any stage of the game, including at twilight.
The flip side of having extra layers of pink is that there was negligible wear and tear on the ball - both sides looked almost identical even after the 75th over. If one side doesn't get scuffed up, it's impossible to get the ball to reverse-swing, and that element was missed in this game. Once again, it's expected that the ball will wear faster on drier pitches, but how much and how soon can only be known after further testing.
Does it spin?
R Ashwin is India's best new-ball bowler, for he has dismissed more openers than any other bowler in the current Test side, including the fast bowlers, since his debut. For day-night Test cricket to become a reality in the subcontinent, Kookaburra has to come up with a ball that suits Asian conditions too - that is, one that is spinner-friendly. While spin hardly played a role in this game, the general feeling among the players is that the pink ball will turn on spin-friendly pitches. Since the seam stays pronounced till late in the innings, there's no reason why it won't turn if there is some soil (and not grass) to hold on to on landing.
It was noticeable that the pink Kookaburra was hard right up until it was replaced by a new one. The ball didn't go too soft even after it had been hit for hours.
How does it react to dew?
Besides the factors mentioned above, there's the matter of dew in the evening hours, for the bulk of the cricket season in India is in winter. Since there was no dew in Kolkata for the Super League final, we don't know how the pink ball will behave when there is dew. However, the good thing is that it can't be too tough to find a couple of Test venues across the country that are not affected by dew at any given time.
Overall, the pink ball has got a big thumbs up from everyone involved in the trial, and it looks like a matter of when and not if before the first day-night Test is played in India.
The author was a part of the Star Sports commentary team for this game, and had access to additional information by virtue of that role

Aakash Chopra is the author of three books, the latest of which is The Insider: Decoding the craft of cricket. @cricketaakash