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

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, 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.

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    The Crowd Says (37)

    • November 27th 2015 @ 6:24am
      Redsback said | November 27th 2015 @ 6:24am | ! Report

      Sorry, but I can’t buy into the possibility that a captain would get to 275 on a first day pitch in Adelaide and then declare.

      The obvious decision has to be to bat first, why: because you are maximising the time batting in the daylight. What I expect to occur would be for the team batting first to do as you say and try to be aggressive at the start (which is good with the openers we’ve got) and then to minimise the damage at night. They would then want to ensure that they have wickets in hand for the second day and try to bat out the first session. This would then maximise the opposition’s time batting at night.

      That is obviously an ideal scenario for the batting team, but I think the choice to bat is really obvious.

      • Columnist

        November 27th 2015 @ 8:13am
        Brett McKay said | November 27th 2015 @ 8:13am | ! Report

        You can’t buy into the possibility of something that happened six weeks ago?

        • November 27th 2015 @ 8:33am
          Redsback said | November 27th 2015 @ 8:33am | ! Report

          1. It was a state game.
          2. It depends on how many wickets down we are (assuming it’s us). If you’re 3/270, you’re hardly going to declare. 9/270 you’d consider it. Even 7 down I wouldn’t do it, because they could easily get another 100 the next day and use up the best batting conditions.

          Also, further to the points made above, I think it’s even more obvious in a day night game that you would bat first than in a day game. In a day game you have to weigh up movement in the morning, which shouldn’t happen in the early afternoon, so you are taking a chance at what could be the worst time in the day to bat. That’s not an issue here, so the decision is obvious to me

          • Columnist

            November 27th 2015 @ 10:45am
            Brett McKay said | November 27th 2015 @ 10:45am | ! Report

            Who cares if it was a state game. It was the same captain at the same ground under the same lights throwing the same new ball to the same fast bowlers.

            I’d be very surprised if Smith was quite so dismissive of a pretty decent example of what can happen..

          • Roar Guru

            November 27th 2015 @ 12:33pm
            Paul Dawson said | November 27th 2015 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

            Agree that the number of wickets down will impact the decision – that being said, I reckon if we are 7 down that will be the tipping point.

            Think about it – if Australia is batting, what would the Kiwis least like to be doing at 9pm at night? Fielding for another hour against tailenders who can’t do a huge amount of damage with the bat, or coming out to face an hour of fast bowling under lights against Mitchell Starc?

        • November 27th 2015 @ 9:45am
          Brian said | November 27th 2015 @ 9:45am | ! Report

          Ideally I think you’d want to bat until about twilight (or just before the dinner break) the next day.

      • Roar Guru

        November 27th 2015 @ 8:15am
        Wayne said | November 27th 2015 @ 8:15am | ! Report

        Smith declared 9 down, which is a often used strategy by Aussie captains in the McGrath days. Maximising time at night, but also not wasting everyone’s time sending out a No.11 in conditions that got 3-10 out

      • November 27th 2015 @ 8:41am
        b said | November 27th 2015 @ 8:41am | ! Report

        I agree, it would never happen on a first DAY pitch in Adelaide. But we aren’t talking about a first DAY pitch, we are talking about a first NIGHT pitch.

        • November 27th 2015 @ 9:28am
          Brian said | November 27th 2015 @ 9:28am | ! Report

          It did happen in a day pitch. Clarke declared in India on the 1st day. We only lost by about an innings too.

      • Roar Guru

        November 27th 2015 @ 12:18pm
        Michael Keeffe said | November 27th 2015 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

        It all depends on how many wickets are down. 2 for 275, obviously you’re not going to declare. 8 or 9 for 275 and there is a good chance a captain will declare.

    • November 27th 2015 @ 8:10am
      jamesb said | November 27th 2015 @ 8:10am | ! Report

      Win the toss at Adelaide with the pink ball and…..

      “We will run with the wind”.

      Sorry Brett, old 12th man joke.

      It will be interesting to see the behavior of the pink ball. Not just during the twilight and evening, but during the day as well.

      I still stick by that day/night tests are not needed. You could still play the test during daylight hours at around 8 or 8:30pm, especially in the southern states. Another thing that would help test cricket is if the pitch is conducive to the bowlers as well.

      If curators continue to produce flat pitches, day/ night tests will not save test cricket.

    • November 27th 2015 @ 8:16am
      David Howe said | November 27th 2015 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      Strategy for Captains:
      WIN TOSS = Bat to Tea, declare regardless of score. Do that each day for 4 days. Or
      LOSE TOSS = a) If sent in then do as per WIN TOSS, or b) Bowl them out then return to WIN TOSS scenario.

      The problem is the 6-10pm time slot with a bat in your hand.

      All this is based around the only data we have to date on day/night cricket matches, not day/night Test Cricket so all may well change when Dave Warner makes his way to the middle.

      Good Luck New Zealand, GO go go Australia, we all wish Cricket a great future in this new era.

    • November 27th 2015 @ 8:25am
      Peter said | November 27th 2015 @ 8:25am | ! Report

      KISS principle. Don’t over think it. Bat until you get bowled out.

    • Columnist

      November 27th 2015 @ 8:44am
      Geoff Parkes said | November 27th 2015 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      Hi Brett, what you’ve outlined hints at some tactical temptations for the captains, but even in the short pink ball history so far there are still cases of sides batting ok at night, and taking wickets during the day. It still comes down to batting and bowling better than the opposition regardless of the time of day.

      I’m sure McCullum is more interested in winning a toss, not because of any special pink ball tactics, but so that he has the opportunity to take the initiative in shaping the game. NZ did well in Perth but after Australia’s first innings they were always coming from behind.

      He’ll be desperate to bat and post a decent score and then try to apply pressure – just like a regular test.

    • Roar Guru

      November 27th 2015 @ 9:10am
      Will Sinclair said | November 27th 2015 @ 9:10am | ! Report

      “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.”

      Love, love, love this thinking. Love it. Would be great to see one of the captains try it.

      But I can’t see it happening, sadly.

      Great piece though, Brett. It illustrates how timing and luck might play a big part in this Test (which is not unusual – during the 2013 Ashes series the clouds always seemed to come in low when Australia was batting, while the Poms batted only in glorious sunshine! Or so it seemed…)

      I am really excited about this game.

      • Columnist

        November 27th 2015 @ 9:57am
        Geoff Parkes said | November 27th 2015 @ 9:57am | ! Report

        No doubt a lot more excited than the Kiwi openers facing up to Starc at 9.15pm with a pink ball will be….

      • Columnist

        November 27th 2015 @ 10:46am
        Brett McKay said | November 27th 2015 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        Luck and timing will be massive, I’m quite sure Will..

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