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Bad light and the pink ball: Can Test cricket show some flexibility?

Bad Light And The Pink Ball: Can Test Cricket Show Some Flexibility?
by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

On the latest episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, host Yas Rana was joined by Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief Phil Walker, Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine editor Jo Harman and Wisden.com features editor Taha Hashim.

Up for discussion was the second Test between England and Pakistan – although there was very little play to talk about.

With the issue of bad light a hot talking point, the panel discussed the merits of one proposed solution: for a pink ball to replace the red when the floodlights are turned on, replicating the conditions of a day/night Test.

Last week Stuart Broad and James Anderson expressed reservations over such a move, with Broad explaining: “We’ve seen with the history of the pink ball under lights, it’s been very tricky for the batsmen and would be unfair to the balance of the game.”

Phil, on the other hand, was in favour of the move, as he explained on the podcast.

Phil Walker: I think that the fuss around the pink ball’s properties and how much more difficult it is to bat under lights with the pink ball is one of the more overblown elements of modern cricket.

Professional cricketers play cricket to earn money and entertain. To have this scenario by where you could be playing cricket under lights in all kinds of different scenarios except for this one particular one, where you’ve started the game earlier against the red ball and so, therefore, there’s this blockage where you’re not allowed to change the ball when push comes to shove later on in the day – and yet the following week you can be playing a legitimate day/night Test match in whites against the pink ball and everybody gets on with it and recognises that this is modernity at work and Test-match cricket trying to adapt to the times.

How you can have it one week and not another week, and how it can be acceptable one week and unacceptable the following week, I just don’t understand that logic. And while it will be trickier, and the degree of lateral movement will be increased – as has been shown with the onset of a pink ball under lights – it’s not so dramatic that it makes a mockery of the game and impinges on the integrity of the game to such an extent that you have to not play.

To me, that logic is grounded in decades-long overprotection of our mollycoddled cricketers and a game that is overly deferential to those who play it, often to the detriment of those who watch it. And it is those who watch it that are far more important in the overall ecosystem of international cricket than those who play it. Test cricket is desperate to adapt and evolve and hold on to its place in the conversation in a cluttered, modern, sporting environment. How we can be so standoffish about the occasional introduction for half an hour, or an hour, or even an hour and a half at the backend of the day, with a pink ball – I find that an odd stance to take, and yet it is quite a popular one.

Jo Harman: If you’re playing in conditions where bad light is likely to be a factor, why not just play with a pink ball throughout the Test, take that potential unevenness out of the equation? All it would take is a couple of massive batting collapses, and the perception is that a series has been made a mockery of because you’ve changed the ball, and perception is key here. You talk about fans – fans will also take umbrage if it’s a crucial match in the Ashes, light is bad, pink ball comes in, five wickets go down in five overs. Fans aren’t going to be happy with that either, or at least one set of fans aren’t going to be happy with that. It’s not an aversion to the pink ball at all, but even from a perception point of view, there needs to be standards that are met by both sides. Why not have more pink-ball Tests?

PW: I think it’s inevitable that we will have more pink-ball Tests. Certainly, TV companies, who hold the key to a lot of these conversations, are more interested in day-night Tests for obvious reasons. It’s primetime viewing for when people get home from work and so on. I think there are always going to be good times to bowl and average times to bowl, and good times to bat and average times to bat in the course of a five-day Test match. I think thems the breaks, frankly.

The idea of having a pink ball from the start has a degree of merit, I can see that. But I also don’t especially think it’s tricky to say that if the red ball is 60 overs old when it reaches a certain light reading point at which it’s agreed and standardised, to flip from the red to the pink. Then clearly the umpire will have a ball that is 60 overs old that is pink in the box ready to bring out and replace that 60-overs-old red ball. Just as when a ball goes out of shape, you replace it with another red ball. It’s not beyond the wit of man to replace one ball with another ball of an equivalent age, it’s just a slightly different colour.

JH: But if the basis of that is that a pink ball is good enough to use in a Test match, what is the reason for not using it for an entire Test match in games where bad light might be an issue?

PW: It does have a degree of merit. But it would also be quite an extreme response to a problem which only really rears its head form time to time. The vast majority of games are comfortably completely in the allocated hours around the world and a red ball has been established as the right ball to use in day cricket for ever and a day. But what we’re talking about here is whether the game dares to be flexible and dares to think on its feet, or whether it accepts the eccentric longstanding customs and rituals that have in some respect, bedevilled it for quite a long time.

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