Friday, 7 August 2015

Column 26, 2015 – Spotlight on the ball

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 129, Friday August 7, 2015.
[Full text below]

Either side of the war, the legendary Compton brothers played cricket for Middlesex and football for Arsenal. In 1952 a Lord’s colleague of theirs, Jack Young, had a benefit cricket match between the sides, played at Highbury.

This was not unusual in the north London clubs’ long and happy association. What was unusual was that this game was played on a Monday evening, under Highbury’s newly installed floodlights, before an audience of several million, live on the BBC.

It must have looked like the future back in 1952. We wouldn’t see floodlit cricket again until the Packer Revolution, 25 years later.

The balls used at Highbury that evening were literally painted white, and had to be replaced every few overs when the paint flaked off. They could easily fix that though, couldn’t they? How hard could it be?

Surprisingly for a civilisation that has advanced so spectacularly in so many ways in the intervening 63 years, a white cricket ball that stays relatively white, hard and generally ball-like remains elusive. Hence the two new balls in ODIs.

This is a plus for traditionalists. There’s money in Test cricket under lights, so it WILL happen. If anyone had developed a successful white ball, we’d be looking at pyjama Tests. But they haven’t, so instead we’re looking at a compromise.

White balls don’t work. Red balls under lights are invisible against the sky. So. What’s halfway between red and white?

It’s only five years since the initial first-class trial of the pink ball at the 2010 Champion County fixture in Abu Dhabi. The following year a pink ball was used in a County match at Canterbury. Last year pink balls were used in Sheffield Shield matches in Australia. And this summer the first pink ball Test match was announced: Australia vs New Zealand at Adelaide on 27 November 2015.

That’s pretty quick. In a similar timeframe, bright orange balls have transformed amateur evening cricket. At tree-lined grounds at dusk, a dark red ball is all but invisible, the bright orange much easier to pick up, especially in the field. It makes a massive difference. Of course that’s visibility in bad light, rather than artificial light. Which is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a-whole-nother ball game.

Reports from pink ball trials vary wildly. The main problem is getting it to last 80 overs. Kookaburra have tested 16 different pinks. Their latest, they claim, wears at the same rate as a red ball. Let’s hope so. The wearing ball is an intrinsic part of Test cricket. If you have to change it every 20 overs, you can’t really pretend it’s a Test match.

Visibility is apparently good. Though some keepers have struggled, batsmen see it fine.

With one notable exception – Chris Rogers won’t be opening the batting for Australia in the Test at Adelaide in November, just as he didn’t for Victoria against Tasmania in the Sheffield Shield last year: his colour blindness means he can’t see the pink ball.

- ends 496 words -

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