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Published on August 17th, 2017 | by Rohit Sankar

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Cricket stepping into the unknown a fifth time

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Pink balls, day-night Tests, more crowd, more action. Cricket is going through an exciting phase with the oldest and purest format undergoing changes. Day-night Tests were brought in to curb the waning interest in Test cricket following the arrival of the more glamorous format, T20s.

While the concept isn’t altogether new, the pink balls used for the Test matches were new. Wikipedia notes that the oldest day-night Test was played way back in 1952 between Middlesex County Cricket Club and Arsenal Football Club. It was a benefit match for Jack Young, a Middlesex cricketer. The match took place at Highbury, Arsenal’s home ground, and started at around 19:30 with floodlights, used for football matches, on. The match was even televised with BBC acquiring over a million views for the event.

A few years later, Kerry Packer started the World Series and one-day cricket with day-night matches became a regular place. But not in Tests. The backward minded cricketing bodies took quite a few years before day-night Tests were discussed again.

The first floodlit First-class match was between Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana in the early 2000s and they used a pink ball!

Australia then experimented with the pink ball in various domestic matches. But the condition of the ball, visibility and softness became points of concern.

England’s 2010 cricket season began with a floodlit match in Abu Dhabi and a year later Kent and Glamorgan tussles out at Canterbury in a day-night encounter.

One thing commonly agreed upon was that the pink ball Tests brought in more crowd. The convenience of visiting the stadium after office hours ensured that Test cricket was no longer watched by jobless youth in the neighbourhood. The quality and the quantity of the crowd bettered. 

In 2013-14, Australia tried out pink ball Tests in their Sheffield Shield matches. The trials turned out to be positive and despite some doubting the visibility and ball conditions, the experiment was deemed to be a success. It eventually paves way for the inaugural pink ball Test in Adelaide when a visiting New Zealand side took on Australia.

“I promise you, we are stepping into the unknown”, Stuart Broad had exclaimed a few days back when talking about pink ball cricket.

Possibly. But wasn’t One Day Internationals and T20 cricket too an “unknown” when they started out. There is little doubting that the future of Test cricket lies in and around a pink ball. Then why delay the concept? There might be concerns with the ball, lights, visibility vis-à-vis, but until you try you never know. As more Test matches take place under the floodlights, the administrators will get a better idea regarding all factors that peg back pink ball Tests.

Now, as West Indies arrive in England, they are set to play the fifth pink ball Test in the history of cricket. This will also be the first time that England, founders of the game, will play a day-night Test match.  Here we assemble a summary of the four day-night Tests that happened till date.

Australia vs New Zealand – Adelaide Oval, November 2015

The inaugural Pink ball Test at Adelaide was a bowler friendly match that thrilled the crowd with swing and seam. Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee and Trent Boult were seen exhibiting some high-quality seam and swing bowling with the new pink ball.

Australia won the Test on the back of a six-five by Josh Hazlewood but not without a few hiccups. In the second innings Australia were set a target of 187 but Trent Boult nearly stunned them with a brilliant spell before they chased the target down with three wickets to spare.

Scorecard: New Zealand 202 (Latham 50, Starc 3/24) & 208 (Santner 45, Hazlewood 6/70) lost to Australia 224 (Nevill 66, Bracewell 3/18) & 187/7 (Marsh 49, Boult 5/60)

Pakistan vs West Indies – Dubai, October 2016

West Indies and Pakistan played out the second ever day-night Test in the history of cricket and the match turned out to be an absolute humdinger. Azhar Ali compiled a triple hundred (302), first of its kind in pink ball Tests, in Pakistan’s first innings.

But Devendra Bishoo spun the web around them the second time around and ended up with eight wickets as Pakistan were bowled out for 123. Darren Bravo’s fighting fourth innings ton gave West Indies some hope but Pakistan eventually sneaked home by 56 runs.

Scorecard: Pakistan 579/3decl (Ali 302, Aslam 90) & 123 (Aslam 44, Bishoo 8/49) beat West Indies 357 (Bravo 87,Yasir 5/121) & 289 (Bravo 116, Amir 3/63)

Australia vs South Africa – Adelaide Oval, November 2016

Adelaide Oval yet again hosted the third pink ball Test, this time between South Africa and Australia. South Africa had already swept the series with smashing wins in the first two Tests and the Adelaide clash was a dead rubber but that did not deter the teams from giving it their best shot.

The skipper, Faf du Plessis, smashed a fine hundred in South Africa’s first innings before stunning one and all with a tactical declaration on 259 with his team having a wicket to spare. It was a bold move triggered by the eagerness to bowl at the Aussies under lights with the pink ball but it backfired as the Australian openers resisted.

Usman Khawaja notched up a ton next day as they took a lead of 124 in the first innings.

Stephen Cook scrapped his way to a hundred but was the only major contribution in the second innings for the Proteas. A target of 127 was set and the hosts eased home to avoid a whitewash.

Scorecard: South Africa 259/9decl (Faf du Plessis 118, Hazlewood 4/68) & 250 (Cook 104, Starc 4/80) lost to Australia 383 (Khawaja 145, Abbott 3/49) & 127/3 (Warner 47, Smith 40)

Australia vs Pakistan – Brisbane, December 2016

The fourth pink ball Test once again involved the Aussies and it was yet another thriller, this time at Brisbane. The hosts racked up a humongous 429 the first time around aided by hundreds from Steven Smith and Peter Handscomb.

Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird then took three wickets each to wreck havoc as Pakistan crumbled to a lowly 142. An overly confident Steven Smith set up a target of 490, that seemed well out of Pakistan’s grasps.

But Pakistan being Pakistan turned up with the odds racked against them and put up a spirited show. The Asad Shafiq-inspired visitors nearly stunned the hosts by getting close to the 490 set.  However, they ran out of batsmen at 450 as Australia heaved a sigh of relief.

Scorecard: Australia 429 (Smith 130, Handscomb 105, Riaz 4/89) & 202/5decl (Khawaja 74) beat Pakistan 142 ( Sarfraz 59, Hazlewood 3/22) & 450 (Shafiq 137, Starc 4/119)

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mm

A cricket enthusiast striving to convey the finer details of the game in a capsule. I hope to present a bird's eye view of the game as I see it to the readers. PS: I am smitten by the likes of ABD but crush on pace bowlers who can make the ball talk.



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