When the pink ball replaces red, some of cricket’s established theories change. Aware of the lifecycle of a red ball, why and when it seams and swings, cricketers need to change approach when the ball is pink and play begins in the afternoon. What makes it difficult for India, going into the first Test against Australia in Adelaide from Thursday, is that they have never played with the Kookaburra pink and only one Test under lights.
The pink ball is known to move under lights making life difficult for batsmen. But, days are long in Australia so part of the second session before sunset could be a time of toil for bowlers.The pink ball is known to move under lights making life difficult for batsmen. But, days are long in Australia so part of the second session before sunset could be a time of toil for bowlers. The sun sets early in India so the second session had the most for fast bowlers in the only day-night Test India have played. The SG ball didn’t just come faster off the deck; there was appreciable swing too at Eden Gardens in November 2019. Bangladesh were blown away.
Live score India vs Australia 1st day-night Test Day 1
But the Kookaburra behaves differently to an SG ball under lights. “What I have seen on TV, the pink Kookaburra ball does not swing as much but there may be more pace,” said India No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara.
What gets the pink ball to move faster, under lights in Australia? Is it the extra coating of lacquer to protect the colour? “There is some belief that the pink finish helps swing early, but this is really hard to quantify or be definitive about,” said David Orchard, GM, Kookaburra. “The conditions under lights are obviously very different than in natural daylight but at the end of the day, it is the pitch preparation, playing conditions, and the skill of the bowlers that will play the greatest part in the outcomes in the middle.”
India vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, who lost his wicket to the moving ball under lights in the pink ball warm-up tie in Sydney, said: “The pace of the red ball stays the same throughout the day. With the pink ball, the pace changes completely in those 40-50 minutes. Both off the wicket and in the air.”
A break-up of the fall of wickets per session in the seven pink ball Tests in Australia — all won by the home team — shows 81 wickets in the post-dinner final session and 65 in the second. The most productive session though is the first when 85 wickets fell.
It’s a small sample size but we have already seen team tactics revolve around this fast-paced twilight session. Teams look to declare early to expose the opposition to some hostile pace. It won’t be a surprise if Steve Smith is batting in those conditions and Jasprit Bumrah repeats his around-the-wicket spell of the trial game that was full of bouncers.
Fast bowlers have ruled in the four pink ball Tests at Adelaide taking 101 wickets at an average of 26.76 as per ESPNcricinfo. With 24 wickets at an average of 49.83, spinners have found it tougher. Some spinners find the Kookaburra ball tougher to grip, than SG and the Dukes ball (used in England) because its seam isn’t as pronounced. While all the three brands have six rows of stitches around the central seam, they are hand-stitched in Dukes and SG. With the Kookaburra, only the two rows of inner seam are hand-stitched, the four outer rows are stitched by machines. Which leads some to believe the Kookaburra seam flattens faster.
Orchard contested the claim. “Our aim has always been to provide a ball that allows all parts of the game to shine; some swing, something for the seamers, something for the spinners and an ability for the batters to have trust and consistency in the ball once they’ve got through the start of their innings,” he said. “If you were to look at the statistics, you will see that the Kookaburra Turf Ball provides the best balance between seamers and spinners with regards to wickets taken.”
As per the company’s compilation, in 2018 and 2019, 45.2% of the wickets in eight countries where Kookaburra is used went to spinners. That is higher than the average of 40.51% in all Test cricket.
Pace or spin, Australia’s leading bowlers have shone with pink at home. Mitchell Starc has been the most productive with 42 wickets in seven games, Josh Hazlewood has 26 wickets in six and Pat Cummins has 19 wickets in four Tests. And amid the struggle of overseas spinners, Nathan Lyon’s haul of 28 wickets with his off-spin in seven day-night Tests stand out.