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Opinion

Day-night Tests make dollars and sense but India’s reluctance means pink ball snookered by red

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Expert
24th January, 2024
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Pink-ball Tests have been part of the calendar for nearly a decade but flicking the day-night switch did not spark anything near the revolution that it did in the 50-over format. 

There has been a slow trickle of evening Tests even though they solve a lot of problems for the grand old format in the modern battle to stay relevant. 

Since the first day-nighter between Australia and New Zealand at Adelaide in 2015, there have been just 21 men’s matches and two women’s Tests.

When the Kerry Packer rebellion turned the cricket establishment on its head in the late 1970s, the thrill (and novelty factor) of day-night cricket had fans flocking to the grounds and a couple of decades later, daytime ODIs had all but been totally eclipsed. 

Australia will host their 12th when the 22nd day-night Test gets underway at the Gabba on Thursday afternoon in what is expected to be another lopsided fixture against the outclassed West Indies. 

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 18: Prithvi Shaw of India is bowled by Pat Cummins of Australia during day two of the First Test match between Australia and India at Adelaide Oval on December 18, 2020 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Pat Cummins bowls Privthi Shaw during the 2020 Test in Adelaide. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Why has the pink-ball revolution never gathered speed? 

As is often the case in cricket, India gets what India wants and the BCCI’s enthusiasm for the pink-ball encounters has never gone higher than lukewarm support. 

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The BCCI bigwigs claim the pink ball costs revenue because matches end quicker and they don’t like it when Tests don’t go the distance.

Anyone who witnessed the pitches that were rolled out for the first three Tests of last year’s Border-Gavaskar Trophy series in India will be scratching their heads at the logic behind that reasoning put forward by BCCI secretary Jay Shah last month. 

“We will have to increase the amount of interest in the public for the pink-ball Test,” he said, claiming they tend to be over “in 2-3 days”. 

“Everyone wants to watch a Test match lasting 4-5 days. Once they get more used to it, we will do more pink-ball Tests.”

Shah does have something of a point that 10 of the men’s pink-ball clashes have been over on day three.

India were the last of the Test-playing nations to give day-nighters a try, waiting until 2019 when they hosted a win over Bangladesh. They lost one the following year to Australia when they became the “Adelaide 36ers” in the second innings but have won their other two pink-ball affairs on home soil against England and Sri Lanka.

Day-night men’s Tests results

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TestsWinsLosses
Australia11110
England725
India431
New Zealand413
Pakistan413
West Indies404
Sri Lanka422
South Africa211
Zimbabwe101
Bangladesh001

India’s reluctance aside, one of the genuine factors in the push to have more day-nights Tests played is the fact that all 21 matches thus far have ended in a result. Not one draw, although both women’s four-dayers (Australia vs England at North Sydney in 2017 and India at the Gold Coast in 20121) did not yield a result. 

Day-night Tests should be worth more to cricket administrators when they go to the bargaining table to negotiate broadcast rights deals because they run through the prime-time hours instead of the traditional mid-morning to late-afternoon timeframe. 

Spectators should be more likely to be able to attend a day-night Test – the old “knock off work early” manoeuvre rather than taking a full day off from employment or school commitments.

And during an era where batters get pretty much all the benefits when it comes to changes to the laws of cricket, playing conditions and modern innovations, the bowlers get a chance to dictate terms more when the pink ball is in operation. 

That’s not to say there aren’t drawbacks. 

No lesser publication than the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport investigated the use of the pink ball in day-night matches among professional cricketers in the UK.

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The study, published in 2020, found that there was a perception among players at the elite level that the pink ball was harder to see than the red one during the twilight hours and recommended that a break in play should be instituted around this time each day as a safety measure.

There is no doubt the pink ball tends to swing more than the red one, particularly at night, but that creates its own little nuance to tactics in these matches. 

When the South Africans took on the Aussies in a day-nighter at Adelaide in 2016, captain Faf du Plessis declared his team’s innings nine down late on the opening evening to have a crack at the local openers. 

Apart from the first Ashes Test when the Bazballers tried the same tactic, it’s rare that you see a tactic like that put into place. 

This week’s Test between Pat Cummins’ world champions and the eighth-ranked Windies could unfortunately become the second match in as many weeks that doesn’t reach the halfway point after the series opener in Adelaide was over by the seventh session. 

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Judging by the green tinge on the wicket when the teams trained at the ground on Wednesday, the groundstaff are running the risk of another seaming monster which could drag the Australian batters back somewhere near the touring team’s level.

But after last summer’s Test in Brisbane was over inside two days due to the vicious bounce and movement of a pitch rated “below average” by the match referee, the ground risks further sanctions from the ICC if the batters are rendered helpless against the cumulative effects of a swinging pink ball on a seaming wicket.

Don’t purchase tickets for day three just yet, let alone four and five. 

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