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Mark Nicholas

Pink is the colour for warm weather

The purpose of day-night Tests was to make the format more viewer-friendly. Having spectators in Birmingham huddle in the cold didn't quite do that

Mark Nicholas
Mark Nicholas
Night time is the right time? England v West Indies, 1st Investec Test, Edgbaston, 3rd day, August 19, 2017

Is night time the right time?  •  Getty Images

Placed in front of me on the desk, as I write, are two pink cricket balls. One is brand new, the other was used by England in practice. Except for colour, they are not so different from any other cricket ball, though the seam is black and the material from which it is made - linen and cotton thread - feels rough, like sisal. They are stamped with the manufacturer's name, Duke and Son, the Royal Coat of Arms, and some British standards information. They weigh about five and a half ounces and have the sense of a solid, hard mass: a reminder that they hurt.
Apparently, the pigment in the dye of the leather does not absorb the layer of grease, or we might call it a wax-like substance, that is applied to the leather of the red ball. Thus, the pink ball wears an all-over matt finish, as against the gloss-like look of one side of the red ball - assuming it is properly cared for and shined. Evidence suggests that the Duke and Son pink ball swings less than the red one during the process of deterioration, which supports the appearance. It should, however, reverse-swing, an art that is less dependent on shine than on dryness and/or damage to the ball. We saw little reverse at Edgbaston because of the even covering of straw-coloured grass on the pitch itself, and the lush outfield.
There may not be so much difference between the balls as has been implied. The England players did not complain of the pink one going soft and therefore either of it being difficult to hit or to make carry to the wicketkeeper, although Joe Root did say that the feel and sound on the bat was soft but that it pinged off it just the same. His exquisite timing might have something to do with that! He said it was easier to see as it got older, which, given there was some sunshine peeking through fluffy white clouds while he batted, may be something else to do with gloss as against matt.
The three days were pretty much sold out but perspective must be applied, given the capacity of 24,000, a crowd that would be considered a disaster in Melbourne, especially, and Sydney too
The bowlers are understandably concerned if it will not swing beyond the early stages of use. Swing is paramount in the balance between bat and ball and it was certainly the case that the Kookaburra version, used in the three day-night Test matches in Australia, moved in the air much as the red ball might have done. But there was a thick, mat-like, covering of grass on the pitches in Adelaide and surprisingly cool weather for an otherwise very warm time of year. A little dew in the evening air added to the general feel of moisture and the ball both swung and jagged off the seam in the hour between 8pm and 9pm. The batsmen frequently played and missed, but surprisingly, fewer wickets fell in the last sessions of play than in the middle sessions. That may be nothing more than coincidence, of course, but it goes some way to allaying fears about the balance tilting too far in favour of seam bowling at night. It is worth noting that the other two day-night Tests - one in Brisbane, the other in Dubai - were notably high-scoring matches.
Watching Stuart Broad steam in to win the game against West Indies as dusk turned to dark on Saturday evening at Edgbaston was the first time that the pink ball appeared to turn nasty. The floodlights, the dampness in the air, the hint of dew settling on the pitch and the hapless batting are the sort of conditions and events of which Broad, in particular, takes a quite sadistic advantage. I doubt, however, that the pinkness of the ball was the weapon of cruelty. I feel sure a red one would have behaved the same way; in fact, I suspect it would have moved around even more. My own, relatively uneducated, guess is that the pink ball has less life than the red one - maybe not when new but certainly as an innings progresses.
English conditions make the experiment harder to judge than anywhere except New Zealand, where similar weather has a history of affecting play. Generally the aim should be to play day-night cricket in a dry climate. This is good for the pitch and the ball and better still for the spectators. To see folk huddled and wrapped through the Birmingham evenings was to confirm that the natural pleasure in watching live cricket was compromised by the hours during which it was played. English summers frequently have beautiful early evenings, but all too rarely does that time extend to the fall of darkness. I have long thought through June, July and August, first-class cricket in England should start at 12.30 and finish at 7.30, with two half-hour breaks and a cheap "happy two-hour" entrance fee for the final session.
Warwickshire were delighted with ticket sales but this had every bit to do with the sensibly reduced price - £28 for most ground entry seats - as with the spectacle. The three days were pretty much sold out but perspective must be applied, given the capacity of 24,000, a crowd that would be considered a disaster in Melbourne, especially, and Sydney too. Test cricket is popular in England, where the niche market continues to command interest.
In general, the potential for day-night cricket remains encouraging and in some parts of the world it may prove to be necessary. That is not the case in England: in fact, on Thursday night plenty of fans had disappeared by 8pm-ish to clear out of car parks, catch buses and trains and make it home for some supper. This is not to say it is a worthless exercise, but the essential requirements are different in England to other parts of the warmer world. It might be worth going to somewhere like the Ageas Bowl on the south coast next, where the promise of good weather is a little better and where a new attraction might encourage a stronger attendance. Frankly, Edgbaston is a winner year on year. The ground and the team behind it put on a great show. Edgbaston doesn't need cricket at night, which isn't to say it would turn down another opportunity.
Next up is the Ashes Test in Adelaide, a game that will feature very fine swing and seam bowlers on both sides. The task for the curator is to get the amount of grass on the pitch to benefit the game, not the ball. The ball is fine, more boring perhaps than its red counterpart, but just fine all the same. I have a feeling the spinners will come to like it. Certainly it bounces as much or a tad more than either red or white. No idea why, it just does.
Anyway, enough on the pink ball now, enough. Or nearly, it's actually not very pink, more orangey pink. Duke's have three shades of pink and the one chosen performed best. We assume.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK