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Pink ball experiment gets mixed reaction

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Alison Mitchell | 15:45 UK time, Tuesday, 13 September 2011

On a chilly, windy September night in Canterbury, there was little evidence to suggest that pink ball day/night cricket could boost audiences for the County Championship, but perhaps another step was taken towards the first ever day/night Test match.

As far as boosting attendances, there was nothing to suggest that the 500 or so spectators huddling in a sheltered stand or sipping hot coffee from behind the comfort of a glass window in the restaurant wouldn’t have turned out to watch Kent versus Glamorgan in their end of season dead rubber anyway, but it was intriguing to gauge how the pink ball, black sightscreen and free entry for the ‘night’ session for the England and Wales Cricket Board’s pink ball trial would go down with both players and supporters.

Floodlit, long form cricket is the brainchild of John Stephenson, the MCC’s Head of Cricket, who believes day/night Test matches could be the way to boost attendances in countries around the world who have struggled to fill their grounds in recent years.

It has been trialled in Abu Dhabi for the MCC v County Champions curtain raiser for the last two years, and a number of matches in the 2nd XI County Championship have also used a Kookaburra ball with a bright pink lacquer.

Pink Ball

Kent and Glarmorgan were invited by the ECB to test the new pink ball with a view to introducing it during night matches. PHOTO: GETTY  

The experiment in Canterbury is being conducted by the ECB, but Stephenson was at the St Lawrence ground yesterday and was monitoring events closely.

This was the first time a pink ball had been used in a competitive First Class game in this country and there are plans for another floodlit First Class match involving the MCC in New Zealand in October, before potentially staging the first day/night Test as early as the New Year when New Zealand host Zimbabwe. 

As well as placating those who don’t wish to see the traditional timing of a Test or 4 day First Class game tampered with, the biggest stumbling block facing Stephenson remains the quality, durability and visibility of the cricket ball.

At Canterbury, pink Tiflex balls are being trialled for the first time whereupon the leather has been dyed, as opposed to the Kookaburra with its pink coating.

Only 12 balls have been specially manufactured for the game, which was one factor concerning Kent and former England wicket keeper Geraint Jones.

He was unhappy that the match had been thrust upon the players at the last minute and that they would be playing with balls which were totally untried and untested, with umpires directed not to change balls unless absolutely necessary because there were so few replacements.

It was then hastily agreed before the start that the teams would use the pink Tiflex for the 1st innings only, reverting to the Kookaburra for the 2nd. As it turned out, the stitching on the ball split early on in the match and the players just had to get on with it; far from ideal in a First Class match, albeit one which has no bearing on Division Two promotion. 

The performance of the ball got mixed reactions. The days play was quite unremarkable in itself, however a new red Tiflex is renown for its swing and seam whereas the pink Tiflex offered nothing and Glamorgan, asked to bowl first, turned to spin after just 7 overs.

The pitch didn’t help matters though, as it was slow and tired with little carry. Spin accounted for the first 3 wickets to fall but when the 2nd new ball was taken around 8pm, after 82 overs and under lights, it did just a little bit, nothing untoward, and Glamorgan seamers John Glover and Graham Wagg quickly finished off the Kent innings; 18 year old Glover finished with 4-49 off 18 overs as Kent lost 3-22 in 6.1 overs of the new ball and were all out for 237. 

“We got the spinners on very early,” said Glamorgan’s bowling coach Steve Watkins. “But we’re not sure if the wicket had an effect or the ball itself. The feeling from the bowlers is that the ball got soft very quickly and in the twilight zone, it didn’t really do too much.

“We mopped up the tail and it just swung a little bit like you’d expect from any normal ball. You have to judge these things over two or three games though and the wicket was a bit slow.

“In terms of visibility, the feedback from the dressing room was that when the lights came on it was easy to see the ball, but it came at you a little quicker than you expected.” 

“It wasn’t too bad,” said Kent’s Geraint Jones who batted carefully to make 48 and then kept wicket for 5 overs as Glamorgan closed on 2/0.

“Because the seam split, you didn’t get your value off the bat I felt. But also it was a very slow wicket so perhaps not an ideal way to judge the ball because of the slowness. 

“One suggestion would be to get the ball a bit brighter. Once it scuffed up a bit it almost went white, so that was a bit of an issue. And the ball didn’t shine like a red one. It didn’t really seam or swing so that’s maybe an area they need to look at."

There was a mixed reaction from Kent supporters, some of whom were proud that their club was taking part in an historical match, which could have an impact on the future direction of the game; others could not see the need to change the timings of 4 day cricket and felt that the credibility of the Championship and the professionalism of the players was being undermined by them taking part in such an experiment. 

Whether or not the ECB press ahead with further pink ball trials in County Cricket, John Stephenson maintains that the MCC’s trials have always been with Tests in mind, and probably outside of the UK.

“Whether it would be good to stimulate attendances in County Cricket, I don’t know, it might be. But I’ve always talked about Test cricket being the main beneficiary of it. It’s an experiment that is worth trying. 

“From what I’ve seen, this form of the game is viable; 4 day cricket under lights, with a pink ball, white clothing. It works. You can play a game of cricket. There are different nuances of the game that you have to get used to, but it’s interesting. It’s worth trying.”

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    So were Kookaburra balls used for all the games mentioned above? Don't Duke make pink balls as well? I'm sure I read about a trial of pink Duke balls a couple of years ago but I don't know what came of it. Regardless of colour, it would be a shame if English teams were to lose the advantage they gain from using a ball which other teams are unfamiliar with.

  • Comment number 2.

    i really think we are the last country that needs the pink ball as our test attendances arent in decline, but see no issue with us being at the forefront of the experiments.

    its a great idea if it means a packed cape town / kingston / mumbai test full of the buzz that evening cricket presents, it is a very worrying site seeing empty staiums for test matches, so it is well worth trying out.

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't know or care too much about pink balls. I rather wish the BBC had sent Alison Mitchell to cover one of the crucial second division promotion battles instead of a game which is relevant only because of this daft mid-September experiment.

    There has been insufficient coverage on 5 Live Sports Extra of the final Division 2 games which really matter.

    Demographically, I would have thought the number of Div 2 fans who care about the promotion issues will equal the number of Div 1 fans who want their side to win the Championship and therefore a similar level of coverage would have been warranted.

    I feel better for my whinge and will feel better still if Surrey win their game.

  • Comment number 4.

    Surely it would have been important to actually test the quality of the ball before using it in a professional game? Why is it pink anyway?

  • Comment number 5.

    I played a 20/20 match on sunday with a pink ball and all the players agreed it was no easier to see than a red one. Both batsmen and fielders had trouble picking it out as the light faded on a gloomy day. Perhaps yellow would be a better choice?

  • Comment number 6.

    @shakySpursforthecup: "Surely it would have been important to actually test the quality of the ball before using it in a professional game? Why is it pink anyway?"

    It is pink because it has to visible in both daylight and floodlit conditions, so midway between the white one-day ball and the traditional red daylight match ball. It is also known the white ball behaves differently from the red ball (in terms of swing and wear), so they want something that behaves like a red ball but with the better visibility of the white ball.

    The split seam can happen with any cricket ball, so I don't the quality was any issue; that would have been tested thoroughly before. It was the small quantity of balls actually available for this match that was the problem, so the split ball couldn't be replaced.

    I'd like to know why the dyes can effect the ball's behaviour so much. Scientifically testing swing, seam, and wear patterns is pretty difficult. This is why you often have to test 'in the field' with proper games, and using feedback from experienced players.

  • Comment number 7.

    Been playing sunday pyjama cricket with a pink ball for sometime now and it is easier to see, particularly as at club level the league balls are darker burgundy that don't shine but do hold their colour for longer.

    In County cricket I understand there have been grumblings all season about the red tiflex benefitting the trundlers rather than the proper bowlers. Another case it woudl seem of county level experimentation by the administrators upsetting the professional game, surely there must be other leagues (County 2XI) to do this in?

    As for improving attendance, after the novelty has worn off would attendance for England vs Bangladesh be vastly improved by a session from 5-9pm rather than a floodlit 5-7pm? I think not, plus the English weather plays a HUGE part.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm still unsure what the reasons for the experiment are. Is it to make D/N Test cricket a reality? What for? I can understand the need to capitalise on available playing time, so that (e.g.) a rain-affected day game can press on into the night under floodlights. In my opinion it's a tinker to far and wonder whether the health and longevity of t20 is behind all this.

  • Comment number 9.

    Im against this in England. I could see the point in many other test playing nations where crowds are down for test cricket and I could even grudgingly accept there may be a case for it in county cricket where with one or two exceptions attendances are 'sparse' shall we say for four day cricket but English test cricket does not need this. Its a case of our county clubs being asked to 'experiment' in a competitive game for the probable benefit of forgien test teams if anybody and Mr Stephenson should not be degrading our championship in this manner,I call for him to resign his post.

  • Comment number 10.

    I've got no philosophical objections to day/night cricket or pink balls but this can't be used to give yet more advantages to the batsman. If a pink Duke can be produced that matches its red counterpart for seam and swing then fine, if not and the choice is Kookaburras (no seam, lose their shine after 20 overs) or some experimental third option then absolutely not.

  • Comment number 11.

    More day/night cricket seems a sensible way froward from the marketing perspective.

    If the fllodlights are good enough, whats wrong witha red ball and white sightscreens throughout?

  • Comment number 12.

    One of the problems of the red ball is that most of them simply aren't red - they're nearly black. The only person who can see them well is the batsman who has the aid of a sightscreen - certainly not the spectators who after all have paid to put their bums on the seats. There is a definite need to have a more visible ball for appreciation of the game, whether as spectators, scorers, umpires and let's not forget the fielders who face a variety of backgrounds at any level of the game. When orange and pink balls have been tried at club level, as many leagues have done for evening 20/20 games, they have proved to be much more visible especially on tree surrounded grounds with dark backgrounds. Why are cricket balls red in the first place? The only reason I can see is that the game of cricket is older than dye chemistry and red dyes such as eosin, vermilion and cochineal were all that were available. Around 8% of males have colour deficient vision and have serious difficulty distinguishing red from green especially in poor light, which makes red a pretty poor choice for them anyway, akin to asking normally colour sighted individuals to use a green ball - which would never been done. Orange is no better, and pink not much. The only colour that fits the bill for everyone is yellow, which seems to be completely off the radar, though it's used routinely in tennis where the ball is served faster than found in cricket. Surveys have shown that at least at first class level there are significantly fewer than 8% males in with colour deficient vision indicating they have been selected or self-selected out of the game - and they don't pay to attend either!

    As to the comment that "it came at you a little quicker than you expected" I think that would be something that Sir Isaac Newton would have wanted to know about. I don't think he noticed that the colour of an object affected his Laws of Motion. Equally the fact that "a new red Tiflex is renown for its swing and seam whereas the pink Tiflex offered nothing" can have absolutely nothing to do with its colour!

    It's a pity the seam split - that could have happened to any ball but the use of more visible balls is to be encouraged and may well attract more spectators to the game. I don't believe the game was devised so neither fielders or spectators could properly see what was going on.

  • Comment number 13.

    I can't see why they can't just break out the PJ's and the white balls for test matches as well. I know there's tradition and all that guff, but seriously you may as well add the colour and spectacle.

  • Comment number 14.

    @Tyneblade

    On a side note, I was interested to learn that Sir Ian Botham is colour blind.

    Overall I think it will be the Sub Continent who embrace Day/Night Test matches most - the evening weather in India is vastly more tolerable to play cricket in than the midday sun. However, were I doing so I would drown myself in insect repellent first.

  • Comment number 15.

    #13 Never! We ought to be getting back to whites and proper cricket with one championship division and a Sunday League. We should also lead the cricketing world away from its obsession with T20 which is pandering to the simple minded and has no merit other than in persuading simpletons to part with their cash. Cricket was never meant to be played at night or with white balls or in cloured clothing,there is a sport for people whose brains cannot comprehend cricket and embraces all of those elements,it is called baseball (or rounders in England) and I would urge the followers of T20 to go and watch those sports and leave cricket alone. I know this is a forlorn hope of course because the whole world worships money and cricket is no exception but nothing will ever convince me that what we have today has improved the game one iota. Therefore I will content myself with maintaining the current status quo,let those with the attention spans of goldfish have their fun but leave test cricket in England alone.

  • Comment number 16.

    Have any of the trial matches been televised? As cricket gets so much revenue from TV, I would have thought it was important to see how a pink ball shows up on a TV screen.

  • Comment number 17.

    Oldwoodman, this trial was instigated by the ECB not the MCC and John Stephenson. It just happens to be on an area that Stephenson has a major interest in. Calling for his resignation is entirely unnecessary and unreasonable in this instance.
    As for the use of a pink ball, if it works in the same manner as a red ball and enables day-night cricket I have no objection. However, if it doesn't react in the same way as its red counterpart then more work is needed before its use should be sanctioned for anything other than trial games, friendlies and non-first class cricket. I also wish to add my name to the list of those who disapprove of the subversion of the County Championship for this match and am disappointed by the use of different balls for first and second innings.

 

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