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Pink ball revolution and Test cricket

Pink ball revolution and Test cricket

TRADITIONALLY, from time immemorial, the game of cricket is played with a red ball. However, with the passage of time changes have occurred in almost every format of cricket be it the Tests, the ODIs or T20s.

From a red ball to white, it took almost hundred years. It was 1877 when the first ever Test was played, but the use of a white ball was first introduced when the cricket revolutionary and Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer stepped in to change the face of the game in 1976-77 with his World Series cricket (WSC) which took off in retaliation of not being given the television rights to air international cricket in Australia for his Channel 9.

He came out in a big way, challenging not only the Australian cricket authorities who denied him his rights despite better bidding than the national channel run by ABC, but signing over sixty international players of repute besides introducing many innovations such as coloured clothing, floodlit cricket, black screen and the white ball.

Before this, the One-day international cricket which started in 1971 when a Test match was abandoned due to rain and was converted in a limited over game at the MCG between Australia and England, was played using a red ball.

Packer was branded a rebel and a traitor to the traditional game when his circus began. However, the same Kerry Packer was later recognised as a Messiah of the game, bringing not only big money to it but also a different brand of cricket which became the most popular form, especially after 2003 when the T20 format was launched.

The popularity thus led the authorities to also play Test cricket as a day/night game which, after being first played in 2015 October at Adelaide between Australia and New Zealand, is now in vogue and catching up as South Africa and Pakistan also have had a taste of it.

This brings us to the pink ball revolution. After experiments in domestic circuits of Australia, West Indies, Pakistan and South Africa from 2014 onwards, the pink ball is now an accepted phenomenon for the floodlit Tests, ahead of the red or a white ball.

Sighting a pink ball, though, has been a bit of a issue, especially when the floodlights are on and the ball condition begins to vary. When the pink ball was first used, the batsmen complained at times of losing the sight of it and the problems in spotting its swing and movement in flight.

Yellow and orange coloured balls were also experimented with but without success. As things stand, white ball still remains a standard in the ODIs and the T20s while the pink ball is for the floodlit Tests.

Pakistan, having played their first pink ball Test last October at Dubai against the West Indies, now plays another at The Gabba in Brisbane starting today. The first pink ball Test was won by Pakistan and it lasted full five days unlike the Adelaide Test between Australia and New Zealand last year which Australia won within three days with 123,000 people watching.

The Dubai Test attendance, not surprisingly, was just 7,000 including all five days.

I watched the players practice with the pink ball in lights before the Test in Dubai and continued to read and follow the comments from various directions about the behavior of the ball, its swing and movement off the pitch etc.

I am sure some may have had problems with it, but a triple century by Azhar Ali and a defiant, dour knock by Darren Bravo in a bid to save the Test were ample proof that it is only a matter of getting used to the pink ball — like it was playing a white ball in the beginning — for the players.

I personally, however, feel that the whole controversy about use of a pink ball could have been shelved if the authorities at the start had made a decision to use a white ball and had moved onto coloured clothing from the white in Tests as well.

I know traditions die hard but with the passage of time, changes need to be made which I suppose is what future holds even for the Test matches.

Published in Dawn December 15th, 2016

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