My own pink ball experience has me nervous for Adelaide

Brett McKay Columnist

By , Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    It’s not quite the same as facing or bowling with the new pink Kookaburra ball, but my own experience with the most important element of the day-night Test cricket revolution wasn’t brilliant.

    The Prime Minister’s XI tour match against New Zealand in Canberra in late October was notable not just because it marked the Black Caps’ first outing in Australia, but it also marked my ball-by-ball commentary debut for ABC Grandstand radio.

    The commentary went well – better than I’d hoped, even – but that wasn’t the issue; seeing the pink ball was.

    To explain this, I need to go back two years.

    Cricket Australia conducted its first pink-ball trials during a Sheffield Shield round across the country in the summer of 2013-14. For a column I wrote for a New Zealand sports magazine for a couple of years, I wrote this of those initial trials:

    I’ll very happily admit that this is coming from a very small sample size, but my eyesight is still fine and I don’t wear glasses at all. And in the footage of the pink ball Shield trials I saw, I found it difficult to pick up the pink ball on the screen. And I’d wager I’m not alone on this.

    Think about that for a minute. As bad as it is that the players have major reservations about the pink ball and how it plays, if the average viewer on the couch can’t see the ball on the screen, then it completely defeats the purpose of playing Test cricket at night.

    Without wanting to get into Pantone codes or paint colour charts, the colour of the pink ball has changed from those initial trials. Whereas the original ball trialled was more a ‘classic’ pink, the one in use now is more hot pink. “Highlighter pink” was how I described it during the PM’s XI broadcast. It’s definitely more vibrant and brighter now than two summers ago.

    Kookaburra managing director Brett Elliott told ABC Grandstand in late October that they’ve actually been through 16 different shades of pink in arriving at ‘highlighter pink’.

    The seam colour has changed, too, during that process. They tried black first, then the green from a white ball, then the white from a red ball, before settling back on green.

    And the construction of the pink ball is actually closer to how they make the red ball than the white.

    White balls are made from neutral, undyed leather. Pink and red balls use leather dyed that colour first. The pink ball then differs from the red in that a fine film of extra colour is applied to the leather – “to help preserve its colour through the twilight and the natural wear,” Elliott said in the ABC interview – before the same clear lacquer is applied to both balls to complete the manufacturing process.

    We had a new pink Kookaburra with us in the commentary box at Manuka Oval, and throughout the day, we had opportunity to air our thoughts on it.

    I have a white ball on the desk in my office. I don’t know why or how I came to have it sitting next to my laptop, but it’s been there for years, and during cricket season I inevitably practice my off and leg-breaks while working away or just watching the cricket.

    What really got my attention about the new pink ball in the commentary box, was that compared to the feel of a new white ball, or even a new red ball, the pink one didn’t have that same shiny-but-hard feel that a new ball does. It just felt softer.

    So I haven’t been that surprised to hear players talking about the pink ball not holding up. Adam Voges was scathing immediately after the PM’s game, saying a ball replaced after 28 overs (it was hit onto the roof of a grandstand) “looked like it was 68 overs old – it didn’t hold up very well at all tonight”.

    Another round of Shield games were played with the pink ball the week after the PM’s game, and remarks of the old pink ball “looking more green than pink” were common.

    Even this weekend just gone, the concern was there from the Western Australia-New Zealand pink-ball tour game in Perth. The Black Caps bowlers found the older ball to be gun barrel-straight and difficult to buff up, while Warriors bat Sam Whiteman confirmed the ball became harder to pick up as day transitioned into night. The gloveman was dismissed for 117, one of five wickets to fall in the last 10 overs of the innings against the second new ball. New Zealand similarly lost 3-44 against the new ball late in their innings on Sunday night.

    Going back to Manuka in October, my own experience was that from our commentary position (which was back to side-on, now that the end-on temporary structures for the Cricket World Cup back in February and March have disappeared), I found the ball difficult to pick up in the afternoon. Colleagues at WIN TV told me they had to play around with things to help the ball show up in the afternoon footage for their news bulletin, too.

    On the monitors looking down the wicket, it wasn’t much easier to see on the Cricket Australia live stream.

    I was expecting the ball to show up well looking down the much lighter-coloured pitch, but for some reason, it just didn’t quite work out like that. I wasn’t alone in this view either, though some people in the media area also found it easy to pick up. It was obviously different for different people.

    It’s worth noting that the cameras and level of production that Channel Nine will put into the Test coverage will be significantly improved on what CA or WIN TV were using.

    Interestingly though, I found the older ball easier to pick up in the twilight, and as the lights took effect. The new ball under lights was even better again, and I didn’t experience any issue with the ‘comet tail’ effect that players have reported once the lights take over.

    Anyway, we will see how it all pans out come Friday in Adelaide – particularly how the ball shows up on TV at the various stages of the day’s play, and at the various stages of wear. The word is that the Adelaide Oval wicket square will be deliberately left greener, so as to ease the natural wear on the ball. And that’s probably fair enough, given what went on in Perth last week.

    I’ll be interested to hear from you guys as the Test goes on. Remember, a key driver of Test cricket at night is television; making Tests more accessible for the paying public is just a cherry on top. But if the ball is difficult to see both on TV and live at the ground, then what’s the point?

    Please come back here and leave your thoughts – I’d love to hear from anyone at the ground too – even if it just to say I need to get my eyes tested!

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.