My own pink ball experience has me nervous for Adelaide

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, 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.

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    The Crowd Says (101)

    • November 24th 2015 @ 7:02am
      David Howe said | November 24th 2015 @ 7:02am | ! Report

      Most interesting pre match comments. You have spruked my interest in this upcoming game, not from the usual player fitness or gamesmanship viewpoints but from a different perspective. Quite right to ask the question ‘Just what is driving the desire to install a pink ball?’ Could it be that CA or the ICC is against trialling the white ball at test level? Recent issues with ball changing in Perth suggest that a new colour may not be as important a rule change as one imagined; perhaps a new ball every 40 overs as a rule would allow day/night tests whilst simplifying ball production and viewer confusion and vision.

      • November 24th 2015 @ 8:49am
        RyanP said | November 24th 2015 @ 8:49am | ! Report

        David, I think you may have hit the nail on the head here talking about the condition of the ball at the Perth test. Could it be that the pink ball is softer because of changed production at Kookaburra (resulting in softer red balls as well) and not due to an extra coat of paint?

        On your other point, I don’t think there will ever be a white ball in test cricket, it would be near impossible for a batsman to see against a bowler’s shirt.

    • November 24th 2015 @ 7:55am
      cruyff turn said | November 24th 2015 @ 7:55am | ! Report

      I know this will grate with the traditionalists, but why not wear coloured clothing and use a white ball for day-night tests? At least the white ball can be seen.

      Are we really that inflexible that we can’t change from whites?

      • November 24th 2015 @ 7:59am
        Christo the Daddyo said | November 24th 2015 @ 7:59am | ! Report

        In an ODI there are two balls used. In other words, a single white ball is expected to only last 25 overs. Which obviously isn’t enough for Test cricket.

      • November 24th 2015 @ 8:03am
        madmonk said | November 24th 2015 @ 8:03am | ! Report

        Because it wont go 80 overs. 30 years of day night cricket tells us that. Nothing to do with flexibility.

        • November 24th 2015 @ 8:10am
          cruyff turn said | November 24th 2015 @ 8:10am | ! Report

          Then use the ball for 30 overs. I know it digresses wildly from convention, but at the end of the day we want to see the ball.

          I’m all for the concept of night tests, but if viewers, spectators and players can’t pick up the pink ball, then what’s the point?

          • November 24th 2015 @ 9:25am
            Dom said | November 24th 2015 @ 9:25am | ! Report

            How about we see how it goes first? Obviously they’re aiming for as small a change as possible to Test cricket, which makes sense. Apparently the balls have changed a lot in the last two years, and we’ll all see how the new ones go this week.

    • November 24th 2015 @ 7:57am
      SuckerForRed said | November 24th 2015 @ 7:57am | ! Report

      Two comments –

      There appears to have been problems with the red ball this season. Do I recall one being replaced after just 12 overs in the WACA test? And the discussion by the commentators at the time revolved around how it had happened also in Brisbane.

      Am a bit interested that pink was choosen. If someone has a degree of colour blindness then pink & green may just blend together and become dificult to distinguish. From talking to people who are colour blind this effect is emphasised on tv/film. What colour should they use? Buggers me.

      Finally. Are they going to operate with 2 balls aka one dayers with the white? Would have though that this might solve the problem of the ball not lasting terribly long.

      OK. Three comments…..

      • November 24th 2015 @ 8:05am
        madmonk said | November 24th 2015 @ 8:05am | ! Report

        If you were going to use 2 balls you would do a ball change after 40 overs. This is of course an option but it would change the game and not sure what it would do for spin bowling.

    • November 24th 2015 @ 8:01am
      Christo the Daddyo said | November 24th 2015 @ 8:01am | ! Report

      “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””

      In other words, exactly what all the players were saying about the red ball in the Perth Test match. Perhaps the problem is not so much the colour, but that something’s gone wrong with the manufacturing process at Kookaburra lately?

    • Roar Guru

      November 24th 2015 @ 8:04am
      Red Kev said | November 24th 2015 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      I want to know what is wrong with an orange ball?

      • Roar Guru

        November 24th 2015 @ 9:08am
        The Bush said | November 24th 2015 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        Yeah we had Katich on the radio a few weeks ago talking about how they trialed night Shield games with an orange ball in the 90s and it worked fine.

        Whatever happened to them? You still seem them at cricket stores…

        • Columnist

          November 24th 2015 @ 9:15am
          Brett McKay said | November 24th 2015 @ 9:15am | ! Report

          Mike Hussey aged himself before the OMs game, by talking about playing Shield games with a yellow ball under lights, and he said the same thing, that they were easy to pick up and see generally. Yellow is used in indoor cricket, of course..

          From memory though, orange and yellow weren’t real flash for TV though, and hence the move to pink.

          • Roar Guru

            November 24th 2015 @ 9:28am
            The Bush said | November 24th 2015 @ 9:28am | ! Report

            As a budding indoor officiano Brett, those yellow indoor balls are so soft I’m surprised they survive the 16 overs we put them through…

            • November 24th 2015 @ 10:32am
              Ben Schneider said | November 24th 2015 @ 10:32am | ! Report

              It really depends on the batch you get Bushy. I’ve had some Burley balls that have failed to last 6 overs let alone 16 yet there are others that last quite well. When they moved away from hand stitching to machine stitching the quality really dropped off.

              However Bushy the softness comes from the construction. The Burley balls are made by injecting urethane/styrene into them. No cork or string at all. That is why they soften up so quickly once the lacquer has been compromised.

            • Columnist

              November 24th 2015 @ 11:27am
              Brett McKay said | November 24th 2015 @ 11:27am | ! Report

              That’s because they have a tennis ball inside the leather outer, Bushy..

            • Roar Guru

              November 24th 2015 @ 12:58pm
              The Bush said | November 24th 2015 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

              Thanks for the info fellas. Is certainly very odd using them. Only started playing indoor this year and it has taken a few games to get used to the feel of sending one down. Also odd running off such a short run up, when you’re used to pretending to be Brett Lee off about 20 steps..

              • November 25th 2015 @ 9:37am
                Evil Steve said | November 25th 2015 @ 9:37am | ! Report

                When I switched to indoor several years back I changed to bowling offies for that reason and never looked back (much better than my medium pace). I agree the ball takes a bit of getting used to. I bought some cheap indoor balls (Firefly brand) and took them to the local nets to practice with for a while – they scuff up quickly but they get you used to the weight.

          • Roar Guru

            November 24th 2015 @ 10:30am
            Paul Dawson said | November 24th 2015 @ 10:30am | ! Report

            Yellow balls at indoor cricket level vary widely from batch to batch in how well they hold up.

            And they do get soft very very quickly.

            You’re right too with why orange and yellow balls can’t get a run on TV, they look rubbish under lights. The Howzat! Drama that Channel Nine made last year referenced this when Chappelli and Lillee were bowling balls and testing them under lights.

          • November 24th 2015 @ 10:39am
            RussNev said | November 24th 2015 @ 10:39am | ! Report

            Brett
            I went to a Day/Night shield game at the Gabba last year 2014 and found the pink ball very difficult to see. Ian Healy was in our group as this was a school cricket coaches outing and his son was the captain of the school first XI.
            I mentioned to him that I had trouble seeing the pink ball and he said he had the same problem. I have noticed that ex-test players seem to not loose where the ball goes in play , i.e., they know how to really watch the ball, understand the type of delivery from the action of the bowler and the shot etc and consequently very rarely loose sight of the ball, be it red or white. So it was interesting that Heals confirmed my thoughts.
            I find at cricket training that the orange ball really stands out and interesting to note it is a similar colour to the protective clothing that road workers and tradies wear.
            In general I find the white ball much easier to see than the red at the ground.
            Perhaps a compromise needs to be found where the red ball is used with white/cream clothing during the daylight portion of a test. Then at the dinner break the white clothes are changed for coloured and the white ball can be used.

            • Columnist

              November 24th 2015 @ 1:32pm
              Brett McKay said | November 24th 2015 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

              Cheers Russ, interesting insight..

          • November 24th 2015 @ 5:01pm
            Fox said | November 24th 2015 @ 5:01pm | ! Report

            Yes and of course to hell with players and fans as long as TV gets what they want – everyone else can get stuffed right? Damn Right

        • Roar Guru

          November 24th 2015 @ 9:18am
          Will Sinclair said | November 24th 2015 @ 9:18am | ! Report

          Possibly Cricket Australia wants nothing to do with a colour that reminds people of the Wests Tigers.

          In which case, I completely support their position.

          • Roar Rookie

            November 24th 2015 @ 10:35am
            josh said | November 24th 2015 @ 10:35am | ! Report

            seconded

          • Roar Guru

            November 24th 2015 @ 11:38am
            Jason Hosken said | November 24th 2015 @ 11:38am | ! Report

            yep, much prefer a black ball with a white magpie replacing the kookaburra…

          • Columnist

            November 24th 2015 @ 1:34pm
            Brett McKay said | November 24th 2015 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

            I can’t imagine an orange ball that either leaks money every time it meets any type of resistance or is capable of complete self-destruction being overly popular, if I’m honest..

      • November 24th 2015 @ 9:18am
        Felix said | November 24th 2015 @ 9:18am | ! Report

        Duke were playing around with an orange ball about 4 years ago, I think it tested quite positively but picked up the grass stains very readily and made it rather difficult to see.

        I’m unconvinced pink will be the final colour but we will just wait and see.

        On another note I feel like day night long form needs to be kept in a separate column of a players stats sheet, under say FCDN/TDN.

        Based on a few reports from state games, the tactic seems to be declare late at night and send in your opponents. It’s late, hard to pick up the ball and openers would be so far out of their comfort zone – perhaps it’s a format that bowlers will come to love?

        Looking forward to watching it all unfold.

        • November 24th 2015 @ 11:32am
          Don Freo said | November 24th 2015 @ 11:32am | ! Report

          Why not a green ball and spray the grass pink?

          It’s all so premature. Get things right THEN play a test match.

          • November 24th 2015 @ 1:49pm
            Andy said | November 24th 2015 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

            It does seem a little silly to have the day nighter as the final match in a good test series. New Zealands bowlers have been dissappointing but we always knew that their batsman would score over here and that Australian batsman would score on the flat batting wickets we have so this series was always going to be entertaining and probably go the distance. I think maybe we should have trialed day night tests at the international level with 2 less competitive teams maybe. It would be a shame if either team win because of a hugely unfair advantage during the night time or something.

            • November 24th 2015 @ 3:06pm
              spruce moose said | November 24th 2015 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

              Why don’t you wait and see how it goes.

              Gosh this negativity is infuriating.

              Here’s one…which teams would you have used?

              The fact that they are two competitive teams means the playing field remains level.

              • Roar Guru

                November 24th 2015 @ 3:24pm
                Paul Dawson said | November 24th 2015 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

                Totally agree, it’s like some people want this to fail.

                Get with the big picture! This could be the move that saves test cricket in the long run, so I am crossing my fingers and hoping like hell it goes off without a hitch.

              • November 24th 2015 @ 3:53pm
                Don Freo said | November 24th 2015 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

                Not at all. Just get a bit realler. In fading light these days, they turn the lights on.

                The lights are outstanding. If they can see a red ball in fading light under good lights and struggle with a pink ball…AND the pink ball doesn’t last…here’s an idea.

                Use a red ball under good lights.

              • November 24th 2015 @ 4:12pm
                spruce moose said | November 24th 2015 @ 4:12pm | ! Report

                But at night, they can’t see a red ball when it’s in the air as well as you can a pink ball.

                The red ball is disadvantageous to the fielding team the moment it’s hit in the sky.

              • November 24th 2015 @ 4:48pm
                Don Freo said | November 24th 2015 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

                Yes that is the seemingly obvious argument but that is only an issue with a ball hit very high. Apart from that, a night sky is never the background.

                A ball hit that high as to not be lit up it unlikely. Players have time to get a sighter of the high ball. Far more worrying is the lighter coloured ball flying at face height to slip or short cover.

                I think they should try it. It would save many issues with ball longevity.

              • November 24th 2015 @ 4:59pm
                spruce moose said | November 24th 2015 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

                They would have tried it if they thought it would have worked.

                They are a bit smarter than you give them credit for.

              • Columnist

                November 24th 2015 @ 7:40pm
                Brett McKay said | November 24th 2015 @ 7:40pm | ! Report

                Surely Don, you’re not suggesting the answer involves a dark-coloured ball that the players just don’t hit in the air….

              • November 24th 2015 @ 10:12pm
                Don Freo said | November 24th 2015 @ 10:12pm | ! Report

                Correct. I’m not.

          • November 24th 2015 @ 4:39pm
            Felix said | November 24th 2015 @ 4:39pm | ! Report

            I agree! I feel like Taylor’s 4 x
            100 day test match solution has merit. Start Thursday finish Sunday, reduce the costs of producing the game to TV audiences and grounds alike.

            Can’t they just milk the T20 teet a little more and extract some cash to prop it up?

    • November 24th 2015 @ 8:26am
      Riccardo said | November 24th 2015 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      Morning Brett.

      The more I hear, the more apprehensive I become.

      There’s already issues with the red ball; the Duke is superior. I think one of the new Kookaburras was replaced after 3 overs in the last Test.

      Is Test Cricket in a serious enough decline that this experiment is even necessary? And surely the fleuro-green of a new tennis-ball is a superior colour anyway.

      Test Cricket has become much more results driven since the advent of T/20, often concluded in four days, and is a better product with the possible exception of most advances being too heavily weighted towards the Batsmen.

      The GABBA and WACA pitches have been disappointing, for example.

      • Columnist

        November 24th 2015 @ 9:18am
        Brett McKay said | November 24th 2015 @ 9:18am | ! Report

        I’m not sure the Duke is superior, Ricco. They trialled it for a season in the Futures League (the 2nd XI comp) in the last couple of years, and in Australian conditions it neither swung, nor held up very well at all..

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