Not just pink: Plenty of Test cricket pointers in Adelaide

Brett McKay Columnist

By , Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    I think it’s fair to say the first ever day-night Test match has been a raging success. The spectacle returned to the game, the pink ball stood up very well, and the cricket itself was excellent.

    Once we got past the first ever wicket taken with a pink ball, and the first boundary with a pink ball, and the first ever misfield of a pink ball by a team masseur substitute fielder, we were left with a well balanced contest between bat and ball, played on a wicket from which both bowlers and batsmen found enjoyment.

    A lot was said and written about the ball before the Test – a lot of it anxiously – and discussion since the Test started has been overwhelmingly positive. The ball showed up extremely well on TV throughout the Test, most importantly, and that certainly allayed any fears I had coming into the match.

    But beyond the ball, there were other important elements of the match in Adelaide that played just as big a role in the Test being as memorable as it was.

    I got to thinking about this on Sunday morning while taking the labrador for a walk, and when I returned home, Waleed Aly started speaking on Offsiders on ABC TV as if he had direct access to my thoughts.

    “There has been a lesson in this Test that we are overlooking, and that is that rescuing Test cricket is in some ways a much simpler affair than [playing under lights with a pink ball],” Aly said.

    “When you have conditions that mean that bowlers can move the ball and get wickets, and wickets can fall at regular intervals, and batsmen actually have to struggle in order to establish themselves, the whole game becomes so much more interesting.”

    And this is so right. It will be really easy to sit back and draw the conclusion that the ball and the lights made the Test good to watch, but there is much, much more to it than just those two, albeit significant, elements.

    A major factor was the wicket itself.

    With more grass on the pitch, the broader wicket square, and even the outfield, this Test was played in almost nothing like traditional Adelaide Oval conditions.

    Batsmen had to work hard to get ‘in’, yet could still take advantage of overpitched deliveries. There was no less value for shots even with the lusher outfield, and boundaries accounted for roughly the same percentage of runs scored as last year’s run fest against India: 49.9 per cent of total runs scored this summer, compared to 50.3 per cent of total runs last season. The total runs scored this year was around 55 per cent of the total last summer.

    Bowlers could find plenty of assistance from the wicket, but only if they got their line and lengths right.

    And yes, the extra grass everywhere was by design, to reduce the wear and tear on the pink ball. The overhead shots showed a wicket square so green that it was at times difficult to distinguish it from the outfield. And it clearly worked, because the ball held up very well; no ball was changed during the Test, and the longest innings of the match lasted into the 73rd over.

    There were only five more wickets taken this summer compared to last, yet from halfway through the evening session each day, you felt like a wicket could fall at any moment. Certainly, the new ball under lights would bend like a 1970s cop with financial troubles, but it also did plenty in the early afternoon, too.

    Steve Smith said of the wicket after the Test:

    “I think the wicket here, compared to the two Shield games that had been played on it and particularly the game we [NSW] played on it, it looked like the grass was a bit more lively.

    “I think it was the same height as the grass in the Shield game but it was probably just a tad greener, so that created a little bit more movement for the bowlers and kept the ball together and swinging for a long period.”

    It kind begs an obvious question, doesn’t it.

    Rather than the lifeless wickets we’d endured in Brisbane and Perth, why can’t more grass be left on the pitch and wicket square everywhere? Why do outfields need to be billiard table-fast?

    For all the talk around matches under lights and four-day Tests and taking the new ball earlier, why haven’t we just thought to lift the mower height up a notch?

    Adelaide has just proven that grounds can be prepared in a way that will help look after the ball, and the contest between bat and ball was all the better for it.

    Beyond the boundary, there’s no doubt the crowd added to the spectacle, and while the Adelaide Test has always been popular, the ticket pricing for such an exciting event made this Test the bargain of the summer.

    I’ve mentioned already this season that I have tickets for the Sydney Test in January, Platinum seats in the Trumper Stand that were north of $150 a pop after early-bird discounts. For the West Indies. These same seats have gone up in price easily $15 since the last Ashes summer.

    For the first ever day-night Test, you could get Platinum seats at the Adelaide Oval for around $100. Even better, you could get a Twilight Ticket that allowed you into the ground after 4pm from about $25 for general admission and up to around $75-80 for the best seats in the ground. It was excellent value that was clearly snapped up. On Day 1, the crowd figure almost doubled from 5pm.

    Yet you cannot buy the equivalent afternoon tickets for the Melbourne or Sydney Tests. This entirely underwhelming West Indian side has been priced at the same premium levels as India and England, and there is no flexibility around coming in late. It’s utter madness.

    The pricing of the Adelaide Test made it so much more attractive to cricket lovers. The South Australian Cricket Association made mention during the Test that upwards of half of all tickets sold were for interstate visitors. And why wouldn’t you, when compared to being royally stung to watch a West Indian side devoid of even household names, let alone drawcards?

    Pink balls and ‘whites under lights’ may well increase the interest in the longest form of the game, but there’s no reason why simple little things like pitch preparation and ticket pricing can’t have just as big an effect.

    Make the product attractive and people will come in droves. Play it on 22 yards of freeway and charge a fortune for it, however, and it’s no wonder the Big Bash League is so popular.

    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.