Six Tests. That’s the total number of day/night official Test matches played till date. Three of them have involved Australia and two of those panned out at the Adelaide Oval, the venue of the seventh day/night Test (Australia’s fourth) between Australia and England.
While Australia the World Beaters of the early 2000s have gone missing, the Steven Smith-led outfit have an unblemished record with the pink ball, winning all three of their encounters thus far – against New Zealand in the inaugural pink ball Test, South Africa and Pakistan.
England, on the other hand, have an impeccable record too but they have played just one such match, against the lowly West Indies few months back, winning it by an innings and 209 runs.
Nothing gets bigger than the Ashes and as Australia and England built up to this enthralling series, there was widespread anticipation as to what would be. All such notions were disbursed when the hosts came out all guns blazing in the series opener at the Gabba and put England on the back-foot with a sensational win.
Without the mercurial Ben Stokes, England came into the series underprepared, brittle and still nursing the wounds created by a certain Mitchell Johnson in 2013-14.
The Gabba was an eye-opener. England had expected to compete quite well and though they showed signs of that, the fight withered away pretty soon as Steven Smith dug into their bowling attack and their triumvirate of seamers and that chirpy off-spinner, Nathan Lyon, dismantled the England batting line-up.
The second Test was always expected to be Australia’s. They had an outstanding record in pink ball Tests, had played several of them in domestic cricket as well and are much well rounded as a unit to counter the challenges of a pink ball Test.
But are they going in a little too overconfident to Adelaide?
They have the numbers alright…and the personnel and the new thread for the black seam for the pink ball should further aid the Aussies.
The black seam newly instilled is more coarse than the one which was used in the day-night Test against South Africa last year. The pink ball has further been polished to get a higher sheen and the glaze is expected to last longer, aiding visibility and swing under the lights during the evenings.
Add to that the Starc factor. He has shown menacing form with the new pink ball, taking a terrific 8-73, against South Australia at the same venue in the opening round of the Sheffield Shield this year.
The left-arm seamer has taken 25 wickets with the pink ball in First-class cricket and has shown an ability to swerve the ball as and how he wishes.
“The ball swung and nipped a little bit and I managed to get it to move both ways and find a way to get a few wickets,” Starc had said after his spectacular haul in the Shield.
All this should ideally mean England will have shivers down their spine when Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins line up to bowl at Adelaide.
But what about the Australian batsmen? Can they sit back and let the bowlers do the job and not contribute? Surely, it takes both parties – batsmen and bowlers – to churn out a win. Have the Aussies taken into account the Anderson, Broad, Woakes and Ball/Overton factor?
Anderson and Broad took 10 out of the 20 wickets to fall in the day/night Test against the West Indies a few months back. The former has more than 500 Test wickets and is arguably the best exponent of the swinging ball in World cricket.
Come to Broad and Australia know quite well what he is capable of. The seam bowler decimated the Aussies at Nottingham in the 2015 Ashes with an incredible 8/15, bowling out the visitors for a mere 60. He is capable of extracting any seam movement on offer and against an Aussie batting line-up that has little beyond David Warner and Steven Smith, Broad can wreak havoc.
What about the third and fourth seamers? Chris Woakes is as good as it gets when it comes to being the third seamer in the side. In any other side, Woakes would easily qualify as the opening bowler. In Ball and Overton they have out and outpace bowlers capable of putting the Aussies on the back-foot and even though only one of them is likely to play, England have the resources to test the hosts.
The batting department isn’t far behind either. Alastair Cook smashed a double hundred in his only pink ball Test till date while Joe Root made a hundred and Dawid Malan hit a half-century. In Mark Stoneman and James Vince they have two youngsters capable of putting themselves out in the middle and competing, something which tilted day 1 of this Ashes in favour of the English.
Johnny Bairstow and Moeen Ali barely came to the party with the bat in the first Test, but here they have an opportunity to rectify that. England do bat quite deep and Australia’s vulnerable lower middle-order put England a step ahead in the batting department.
Bouncers and intimidation have been the talk of the series thus far, but the pink ball tends to soften up pretty quickly and it remains to be seen how much of the intimidation tactics work for the Aussie seamers. They have had the talk, but need to walk the talk if they are to come out on top at Adelaide. If they go in overconfident and complacent for the second Test, England are more than capable of giving them a reality check.