The pink ball revolution, which is bound to change the fundamentals of Test cricket, is right upon us. Whenever India takes an initiative or willingly accepts a change mooted somewhere else, the spread of that move accelerates and gains wider acceptance.
The debate here is not the strength of India’s financial muscle power but the ramifications of day-night Test cricket, of which the pink ball is a key component.
One Test match has been already played under lights – Australia-New Zealand in Adelaide ---even though the reaction from the crowds has been positive, but the players who participated in the match or watched are not too sure of what the future holds. It is one thing to be concerned about the survival of Test cricket but to find a solution in playing the game in conditions diametrically different from the existing one needs serious debate.
As England cricketer, Kevin Pietersen put it: "Test cricket is the pinnacle. Wickets change at night. Who wants to see a new ball at certain grounds around the world at 8 o’clock at night under lights. Are you mad? You’ve got to change all the statistics.”
Implicit in his statement is one basic fact that when conditions and the behaviour of the ball will transform drastically, the game too will change from what it has been so far. From an Indian perspective, they will lose what is called home advantage on which they rely so much.
As must be evident to everyone watching a local match at the Eden, which is being beamed live and marketed vociferously by the commentators, the pink ball requires the wicket to be left with a thick grass cover. This is being done so that the shine of the ball does not dissipate quickly as that will make it very difficult for the batsmen to spot the ball.
Since the match starts in the afternoon, the pacers have no morning advantage but once the lights are on, they become unplayable. As Pietersen said, he will send his openers to bat in the lights as the ball will start moving then and not in the morning.
Besides, since there is going to be no wear and tear on the ball, the spinners are going to be ineffective. Ashwin will no longer be the wizard he has been in home conditions. It is possible, as we see in T20 cricket, spinners could open the bowling and pacers will come into play in the third session.
That wickets will fall more regularly, batsmen will no longer be dominant and pacers will command greater respect, which may or may not be bad for the game. There could also be more changes that may be necessitated by conditions. As more games are played – an Australia-Pakistan Test is scheduled in Dubai – more innovations will come into play.
India is also playing its Duleep Trophy matches under lights in which most of the top cricketers will play. What new questions it will throw up no one is sure. From a traditionalist’s point of view, the worry is that in luring crowds to the stadium or getting more television viewers, administrators need to be careful that in the name of change, cricket should not embark on a path that could end up being more anarchic than revolutionary.