Win the toss at Adelaide with a pink ball and… ?

Brett McKay Columnist

By , Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    Guess? Hope for the best? It might be the case that the first ever day-night Test match in Adelaide is one of those occasional ‘good tosses to lose’, because then at least you don’t have to guess what is or isn’t the best thing to do.

    Starting each day’s play later and going into the night was already going to add new elements of guesswork around the toss. But now a different type of ball too?

    When Steven Smith tosses the coin this afternoon in Adelaide, his New Zealand counterpart Brendon McCullum must first decide if he sticks with ‘heads’. McCullum has lost the toss in four of the five Tests the Black Caps have played thus far in 2015, including both Tests in Australia this series.

    Batting first remains the default setting for captains winning the toss, and has been the case pretty much since Jesus first laid eyes on a ‘road’ while leading the Nazareth first XI.

    Modern pitches – with the possible exception of Nagpur and Mohali, on current and recent evidence – have offered very little for bowlers, and while the former batsman in me is generally fine with that, five days of complete willow domination over leather does occasionally get a little monotonous. Occasionally.

    (Not that getting a result has been an issue – in the 36 Tests completed in 2015, only nine have ended in draws.)

    But does the pink ball give either captain cause to rethink this default strategy?

    It’s been well documented that the pink ball starts behaving somewhat wobbly as the lights take over from the natural light, and more so once the new ball is brought out at night.

    Batsmen in the three-day day-night Sheffield Shield games played earlier this summer found the going harder in the middle session as the ball became softer, too, with spinners and part-time medium pacers only exacerbating the lack of velocity on the ball.

    One of those Shield games may give us an indication of what Smith might do, should he happen to again benefit from McCullum’s continued run of outs at the toss.

    Smith captained New South Wales against South Australia in Adelaide, won the toss, and elected to bat.

    NSW took advantage of the afternoon batting conditions against the new ball, with Ed Cowan falling around drinks in the first session after he and David Warner added 52 for the first wicket. Warner and Smith then put on 120 for the second wicket as dusk neared midway through the evening session.

    From that point, though, the NSW middle order fell in a heap as Joe Mennie, in particular, found the right line to bowl. Tight bowling and defensive fields made scoring difficult, and NSW lost 8-90 either side of tea.

    At this point, Smith had an idea.

    With runs hard to come by, Smith declared at the fall of the ninth wicket, leaving South Australia six overs to face a new pink ball under night skies and bright lights. Cue carnage.

    Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood removed Kelvin Smith (bowled), Callum Ferguson, and Mark Cosgrove (both lbw) with the first 13 balls of the innings, and South Australia were in the deep stuff at 3-3 at stumps.

    Interestingly – and I wonder if this will be on Smith’s mind come the toss today – Starc then continued to swing the new ball early on Day 2 (mid-afternoon, remember), and at one stage had the figures of 4-5 on his way to a first-class five-fa.

    South Australia were all out for 120, allowing Cowan and Warner to knock the shine off the new ball before the lights took effect, and Cowan and Smith then cashed in against the old ball under lights, adding 160 from the 45 overs remaining in the day. Then they kept going the next day, too, adding another 74 in seven overs before Smith declared a second time and unleashed Starc and Hazlewood again.

    NSW went on to win by 215 runs, rolling South Australia for 218. Starc finished with eight for the match, and Hazlewood the incredible second innings figures of 15-3-23-3.

    Victoria had similar good fortune in their clash with Queensland, declaring their first innings 125 runs behind the Bulls’ 444 before tea on Day 3. They then did a job on Queensland, rolling them for 103, before surviving 15 tricky overs themselves. The Victorian destroyers? James Pattinson and Peter Siddle.

    The New Zealand quicks themselves have enjoyed success with the new pink rock under lights, having the Prime Minister’s XI 3-13 inside eight overs in the evening session in Canberra last month. Against Western Australia last weekend, the Black Caps took 5-21 in 10 overs with the new ball late on the first day.

    So the key in all this is going to be the ability to bowl with a new pink ball after tea, and maximising the optimum conditions for swing bowling. Having that ability is going to require good timing, maybe even some good luck, and quite likely, a gambler’s instinct.

    In Smith’s or McCullum’s shoes, having to make the decision on the spot, I think I probably would still bat first, but with a very deliberate yet controlled gameplan to score quickly and heavily for the first two sessions. Then after tea, if the score is anywhere north of 275 from 60 overs or more, I think I’d be very tempted to unleash the quicks with the new ball and a night sky.

    Three declared for 275 and then having the opposition 4-40 at stumps would be a handy start to a Test.

    Cricket in glorious high definition, but not for everyone…
    The Nine Network are making quite the song and dance about their switchover to high definition, and there’s no doubt that sport lovers will be the big winners.

    However, the switchover only takes in the five major metropolitan cities and the Gold Coast. With Australia’s population pushing 24 million people, the population outside those major markets still equates to roughly 8.5 million; more than a third of the country therefore not receiving a Channel Nine signal.

    Even then, you have to assume that of that 15.4 million metro figure, everyone can receive HD and actually want to watch the cricket. In reality, the number of people enjoying cricket in HD might be 10 per cent of the population on the day.

    I contacted WIN TV this week – being the largest television network in the country, and the Nine Network affiliate in regional Australia – to inquire of a timeframe for them following Nine’s channel upgrades, if indeed there is one. Sadly, they hadn’t provided a response by the time of submission.

    So when the Nine commentators inevitably start banging on about how good the cricket is in HD, or how everyone at home must be loving the cricket in HD, just remember that’s not entirely the case.

    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.