Pink ball, green grass an Ashes wildcard

Adelaide under lights looms not only as a historic moment in the saga of Australia-England encounters, but also a shift in the balance of home and away that has prevailed over the previous two series

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
A view of the Adelaide Oval, Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Adelaide, 2nd day, November 25, 2016

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A pink ball and a grassy pitch might just have built Jerusalem on Adelaide's green and pleasant oval. On a day when Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins returned to the Sheffield Shield by way of Ashes preparation, it was the lower velocity offerings of Trent Copeland, Chadd Sayers and Daniel Worrall that opened up a fascinating poser for Australia ahead of England's arrival to defend the urn.
The pitch prepared by curator Damian Hough for the meeting between South Australia and New South Wales is effectively a rehearsal for the surface on which the second Test of the series will be played, complete with the same amount of grass left on the surface to help aid the longevity of the pink Kookaburra ball. In front of a vocal Friday afternoon crowd, Copeland made the very most of it, before Sayers and Worrall also enjoyed themselves.
In both the day-night Tests played so far in Adelaide, there has been plenty of assistance for the seam bowlers, capitalised upon most ably by Josh Hazlewood on both occasions. While the strip prepared for the dead rubber between Australia and South Africa last year was less verdant than that used in the first pink-ball Test between Australia and New Zealand in 2015, it still offered the prospect of the seam gripping in grass oft-described as "thatchy" by competing players.
This was certainly the case for the delivery Cummins summoned to claim the first wicket of the Shield match, a sharp nip-backer that proved much too good for John Dalton. Australia's captain Steven Smith will hope that Cummins can find similar deviation during the corresponding Test match, but he will also be given pause by the way Copeland was subsequently able to make the ball talk when putting together a spell that routed the Redbacks.
When lined up against the likely Ashes bowlers, Copeland is much closer to the fashion of a Chris Woakes or James Anderson than Cummins or Starc, and they will note with some interest the way he was able to exploit seam movement well before the Adelaide Oval's lights needed to be switched on.
One-Test man Callum Ferguson was tempted to play at a ball nipping away towards a fifth stump and edged to third slip. Jake Lehmann was pinned lbw by a break-back delivered from around the wicket. Tom Cooper found himself bowled first ball by a delivery that held its line after pitching to flick the outside of the off stump. Travis Head was taken at mid-on from a ball that held up after the seam held momentarily in the aforementioned grass, and a couple of tail-end wafts gave Copeland figures of 6 for 24. An innings lasting a mere 33.3 overs afforded Alex Carey, the last man out, precious little chance to press his Test claims.
The pitches produced for Australia's 5-0 Ashes sweep in 2013-14 - especially those for the decisive first three matches in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth - shared in common a hardness and bounce that played into the hands of Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle without offering too much in the way of sideways deviation for Anderson and Stuart Broad. But when Michael Clarke's heavily favoured team toured England in 2015, it was the green seamers of Birmingham and Nottingham, both explicitly requested by England's coach Trevor Bayliss after a lop-sided Australian win on a drier Lord's pitch, that exposed many Antipodean weaknesses against a moving ball.
England, of course, are much the poorer in terms of experience against the pink ball, having played only one day-night Test against West Indies earlier this year as opposed to Australia's three, not to mention a plethora of floodlit Shield matches over the past five seasons. But the sight of a ball darting around off the seam - of any colour - is something Englishmen are habitually more comfortable with than Australians, and the lead taken by Cricket Australia in pushing the pink ball has offered Joe Root's tourists an opportunity that they would not previously have expected in Adelaide, of all places.
The failure of South Australia's batsmen to cope with Copeland, plus the concurrent, rapid fall of Queensland and Victoria wickets on a grassy-early season pitch at the Gabba, provided a reminder that the moving ball blind spot still exists Down Under. Once New South Wales took their earlier-than-expected chance to bat, Worrall and Sayers were likewise able to deceive Nic Maddinson and Smith, who was artfully squared up by a trio of away seamers before falling lbw to another angled in.
So it is that Adelaide under lights looms not only as a historic moment in the saga of Australia-England encounters, but also a shift in the balance of home and away that has prevailed over the previous two series.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig