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Red flags in the ‘pink’ game

Mahavir Rawat

There has long been reluctance on India’s part – as has been the case with any new aspect of internationals, from Twenty20s to the Decision Review System – to embrace Test cricket under lights. Newly-elected BCCI president, Sourav Ganguly took the onus of fast-tracking the entire process of the day-night Test and brings both the Indian team and Bangladesh team on the same page regarding the historic match. The former Indian captain made sure to make the event even more mountainous with a plethora of events scheduled during the course of the match in a bid to attract the biggest of crowds and make a mark in the world of cricket.

The entire city of Kolkata, which was witness to India’s pink-ball Test, was painted pink. City landmarks were illuminated in pink to mark the occasion while a ball-shaped pink blimp hovered over Eden Gardens. 

India convincingly beat Bangladesh, but would it be fair to say that the Pink has passed its Indian Test? I am not sure that the answer is so simple. The Duleep Trophy in 2016-17 and then in 2017-18 was played under lights on an experimental basis and the pink ball didn’t get a vote of confidence from most players. Some of the Indian cricketers that I spoke expressed concerns over the pink ball on Indian tracks, which have little assistance for seamers. Another point of interest was the dew factor, which makes it even more difficult. While a few didn’t find it to be an insurmountable challenge, they did maintain that it would be difficult in Indian conditions.

“If the wickets have a bit of grass on it and the outfield is good, the shine on the ball lasts much longer and aids pace. But the dew settling in the last session is a matter of great concern in the last session,” opined Tanmay Shrivastava, a regular player in the domestic circuit for last decade.

“Structurally, the pink ball is very similar to the red ball. But for playing cricket at night, you need a light-coloured ball, lighter than the red ball. But in the course of a cricket match, the ball goes through a lot of wear and tear which dirties it. On a red ball, it doesn’t really matter because it is already a dark colour. But with the pink ball it does,” Shrivastava further added.

Talking about the scrutiny over the pink ball’s seam-and-swing moment, Shrivastava conceded that while the nature of the pink ball is different, it isn’t a game-altering factor. “It is more to do with the fact that there is a coating on the ball that gives it different characteristics. The seam is not necessarily different – it is the coating on the leather. Generally, on a red ball, the lacquer comes off you, and you shine it to get it to swing a certain way. With the pink ball, since it has to be visible for 80 overs, it has got a natural shine, so instead of shining the ball it is more about keeping the ball clean for it to start to do things like the red ball,” he said.

The behaviour of the ball is one concern but the biggest concern for the people regarding the white ball is its visibility under the light. Virat Kohli in his pre-match presser had said that fielding has been a big challenge with the pink ball and if players fail to watch the ball in their palms then there are going to be a few dropped catches during the Test match. The extra lacquer on the ball helps it zip through the air and arrive faster to the players which might become a problem if the player is not attentive enough.

But the way Bangladesh’s batsmen were hit on the head by the Indian pace attack – the questions about the visibility became louder. Apart from the stark difference in the quality and class of the players, the nature of the pink ball definitely had a role to play. “I thought the lights and pink ball had a role to play,” India’s top-order batsman Cheteshwar Pujara said after the second day. Pujara, who boasts of an unbeaten 256 facing the pink ball at the domestic level, became the first Indian to score a half-century in a day-night Test. Having batted under lights for most of his innings, Pujara said that the experience was quite different from playing with the traditional red ball.

“For a batsman, it’s not easy to pick the ball, especially short balls considering the kind of pace our fast bowlers have. Their batters, as far as I know, have not played any first-class game with a pink ball. So it’s not easy. The first session is slightly easier to bat. Under lights, the ball starts swinging a little more. It’s easier to see the ball in sunlight, whether it’s red or pink.”

How divided is the cricket community on the topic of the pink ball can be seen from another incident. During the match, former cricketer and current commentator Sanjay Manjrekar got in an awkward on-air spat with fellow commentator, Harsha Bhogle when the latter insisted on studying cricketers’ perspectives regarding the visibility of the pink ball. Bhogle was referring to several incidents that took place during the course of the match wherein Bangladeshi batsmen were seen taking hard hits onto their helmets. The commentator simply asked Manjrekar for a fair “post-mortem” after the match to study if the players were facing any such difficulty in sighting the pink ball.

“Well, there is a post-mortem done on this game and there should be a post-mortem on this game. Visibility of that ball will be a big factor against the big white sight-screen,” Bhogle said.

“Don’t think so. Because when you see the slip catchers the way they have taken catches, I don’t think visibility is an issue at all. The texture of the ball is the issue,” responded Manjrekar.

Bhogle, however, was adamant about learning the players’ points of view, who were out there in the middle and actually dealing with the pink ball.

“You need to ask perhaps, for us, those who have played the game, we have a fair idea of what’s happening out there,” Manjrekar responded to Bhogle implying that he had a fair idea as he had “played the game”. Manjrekar further added that having played 10-15 years of first-class cricket, he could perhaps say that with authority.

To which Bhogle simply responded by saying, “having played cricket should never be a limitation or a ceiling to learning”.

Manjrekar taking a dig at Bhogle for not having played cricket and dismissing his suggestion did not sit well with cricket fans in India.

Let’s not forget that the entire debate about the pink ball is an effort to make Test cricket more popular and suit it to the evening timing of the fans. But in this regard let’s not ignore the opinion of two cricket giants. Rahul Dravid has said that more than the day-night version of the Test match, the facilities in the stadium need to be improved.

The entire experience of coming to watch a cricket match should not be tedious but a happy and memorable one so that parents can bring in their kids and watch a game comfortably. Sachin Tendulkar, on the other hand, thinks that the quality of cricket is the only thing that ultimately matters. Whatever is done outside the ground is all right, but if people are not going to see a tough contest between bat and ball, then, these peripheral things are not going to matter much.

Looking at India’s first pink-ball experience, Sachin’s opinion seems spot on. The Test match was over in little more than two days which was not a very good advertisement for Test match cricket.

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