With Adelaide’s ground-breaking day-night Test scheduled to start on 27 November, Australian players and administrators are now well set on a collision course over the use of the controversial pink ball, and it’s an awkward situation that will ask serious questions of Cricket Australia, not least where its priorities lie.
With players already registering their concerns in none-too-subtle terms, the governing body must also deal with Australian Cricketers Association boss Greg Dyer inflaming the situation by telling Fairfax that it was never too late to abort a Test altogether if player safety was a concern. In light of the year this group of Australian players has endured and on the basis of recent public comments from those in line for selection, that would certainly appear so.
As far back as June Australia’s paceman Mitchell Starc was chipping in, notably lacking in diplomacy when he said he’d struggled to pick up the pink ball through the afternoon glare during a Sheffield Shield fixture at the MCG and that as the overs wore on, the ball deteriorated and softened far worse than the red version.
“It’s definitely not a red ball.”
- Starc told Cricinfo at the time.
“It doesn’t react anything like the red ball, in terms of swing and the hardness of it anyway. It goes soft pretty quickly, I didn’t see a huge amount of reverse swing in that game and I don’t think it swung from memory too much until the artificial light took over. It definitely reacts very, very differently to the red ball.”
“The other thing as well is, personally, I couldn’t see the thing at night on the boundary,” Starc continued. “I couldn’t see the ball. So I’m not sure how the crowd are going to see it. I understand the pink ball has changed a lot from when it first came in for trials. It’s improved a lot, so Kookaburra has done well there.” He’d probably prefer a white one, you’d guess, but Starc is certainly not alone in his concerns.
Next up was fellow left-arm paceman Mitchell Johnson, who complained a fortnight back that this week’s round of pink-ball Sheffield Shield fixtures was not the type of preparation for the Test summer that he and team-mates were after.
“I don’t think it’s ideal.”
“Especially with guys missing out on Bangladesh and needing to bowl with the red ball.” By the end of the week those Shield games will have added plenty more grist for the mill.
Also implied here is the suggestion that the ball manufacturers Kookaburra haven’t replicated the performance of the red ball quite as well as Cricket Australia and the company itself claims. Kookaburra managing director Brett Elliott said this week that the new model ball was “as close to the red ball as we could make it”. Perhaps not close enough though, judging by its noticeable deterioration during the Manuka game over the weekend. CA’s head of cricket operations Sean Cary was “not reading too much” into that particular problem because, well, “we know the Manuka wicket is very abrasive”. Presumably Adelaide Oval curator Damian Hough will be preparing a strip fit for five days of billiards.
Read more: All about pink balls
More troubling was the verdict of another bowler likely to feature prominently in the Test summer, New South Wales quick Josh Hazlewood. After a Tuesday night pink-ball training session with Blues team-mates last week, Hazlewood flatly questioned the safety of the new ball and its appeal to spectators in an unusually forthright discussion of the matter.
“It was a little bit tough to see for the square-on fielders, at point and square leg, it was a bit easier in front of the wicket,” Hazlewood said. “The time when the sun is setting, those fielders square of the wicket, when there’s someone like [New Zealand captain] Brendon McCullum batting, it’s going to come pretty quickly whether you’re at backward point or square leg.”
What followed was even more damning.
“It’s going to be tough to see and hang on to.”
- said Hazlewood.
“It might be a little bit dangerous but the more we use it... the more we will get used to it.”
Like Starc before him, Hazlewood also expressed concern that the Adelaide crowd might have trouble seeing the ball at twilight, which also won’t have pleased his bosses much but is nevertheless an entirely valid point for a sport suffering from dwindling spectatorship. “If they can’t see it, they’ll ask themselves what they’re doing there watching,” the fast bowler said. Hazlewood also begs a decent question of fans here; would you rather attend a game outside work hours if it meant you couldn’t actually see the ball for a significant portion of the day’s play or that its inferior quality adversely affected the quality of that play?
What CA and Kookaburra’s endless trials of different balls don’t take into account is that fan feedback could only be garnered from the tiny pool of diehards who frequent Sheffield Shield games. A far more searching public trial now awaits and with its bumper Test crowds, Adelaide will certainly provide plenty more sample data.
Day-night Tests do still have plenty of friends in high places as well, to be fair, and their points are also valid. Among them is no less an authority than Ian Chappell, who said in June that day-night Tests would be a boon for cricket fans, not least because they’ll avoid the harshest heat of the day. His brother Greg also likened the innovation to the white-ball revolution of the World Series era, claiming that players would soon adapt. On the basis of the past week, you’d suggest they’re in no great hurry for that change.
Given the closer proximity of his own career to the current crop of players, it’s instructive to note the strident opinions of former Australia captain Ricky Ponting. A pleasingly spiky presence in punditry ranks now, Ponting has given the concept a big thumbs down. “I’ve actually been against it the whole time,” Ponting said this week. “I mean I understand the reasons behind wanting to innovate and wanting to be different, but at the same time I think Test cricket is all about history and tradition as far as I’m concerned.”
From the way this affair has played out so far you’d be tempted to conclude one of two things; that there’s still room in the highly-controlled media atmosphere for players to voice their honest opinions no matter how it makes their employers look, or more realistically, that Cricket Australia has lost control of the way the issue is being discussed by their players and, perhaps, that mutual trust is currently in short supply.
It was CA boss James Sutherland who led the charge on day-night Tests because he saw the streams of venue that would head the cricket body’s way as a result, but what’s not hurtling towards him in the coming weeks is a potentially unidentifiable missile. Not for the first time, players are asking where they sit on his list of concerns.
Source -The Guardian