When Australia elected to field first in the inaugural day-night Test in Adelaide in November 2015, bowling coach Craig McDermott inspected the box of balls to select the one with which to attack New Zealand.
It is usually a quick and easy process: go with the darkest red (received wisdom is that they swing the most). But what, then, when the balls are pink?
So, on this afternoon, McDermott’s interrogation was more involved; his task familiar, yet complex. Welcome to pink-ball cricket: same old, same old, but different. It is our game as imagined for 140 years, yet something altogether new: novel for every player on the field, the record-breaking crowds and the few of us privileged to have reported on each of the three played in Australia.
That day in Adelaide, people poured through the turnstiles. In one afternoon, more came through the gates than had through the course of five days in Perth the previous week. Cricket’s cognoscenti assembled alongside the curious, embracing the historic moment they were about to witness. A year on, in Brisbane, the masses revelled in the nocturnal session at The Gabba, partying hard throughout.
Drawing on the spirit of both these cities, there really could not be a better venue than the always-feisty Edgbaston for the first day-night Test in England. The expectation is that the first three days will be sold out, with a third of the tickets going to Test first timers.
That alone is music to administrators’ ears and all for a fixture that, on paper, looks as grim as it gets: England hosting a hapless West Indies. Make no mistake, if scheduled for conventional playing hours, then locking patrons in would be more likely than locking them out.
Sure, it will be chilly by night. It was that first time in Adelaide, too. But packing a warm jumper is a small price to pay for the show on offer under floodlights. The sense of anticipation in these final two hours of play is pronounced as the action has been compelling, especially when a new ball is involved.
In turn, do not be shocked to see strategic declarations so that a cagey captain can deploy his quicks during these witching hours under the lights: none funkier than Faf du Plessis — again in Adelaide — last November, closing his South African side’s innings some 12 overs ahead of stumps on day one, the earliest declaration in the history of the game.
Such decisions feed the perception that it is almost impossible to bat against a pink ball. Indeed, batsmen have been most resistant to the change; one Australia international even telling me players would never accept a Test under lights. Of course, they eventually did, but the experience to date is that initial cynicism is slowly being replaced by an understanding that this concept, taken as a whole, really is attractive.
The most persuasive counterpoint to those batting doubters to date was watching Pakistan thrash Australia for three exhilarating hours on the fourth evening at Brisbane last December when in pursuit of 490. They ultimately fell 39 runs short of a world-record chase but the excitement was as good as our game gets.
As for England, this will be their only chance to overcome apprehension about the pink ball before facing it in an Ashes Test in Adelaide this December. With Australia having played in three of the four day-night Tests to date, the importance of this week to Trevor Bayliss’s men cannot be understated.
One thing is certain, though: this may be the first of a kind in this country, but it will not be the last. The sheer number of viewers will demand it be so. Remember, one in seven Australians watched the first day-night Test on television — a higher percentage than those who tuned in to see England lift the urn in 2005, when the game was on terrestrial TV.
So, do not resist the change for, with it, Test cricket surely has a brighter future.
What are the hours of play?
Session one is from 2pm-4pm, with lunch ending at 4.40pm. Session two is from 4.40pm-6.40pm, with tea following until 7pm. The floodlights will be turned on during tea and the final session ends at 9pm. In Australia, the day-night intervals are called tea and dinner.
What effect will pink ball have?
Pink balls are easier to see under lights, which is why they are being used. The Dukes ball, which England will use rather than the Kookaburra favoured by the Aussies, moves around a lot when hard but goes soft quickly. It doesn’t stay as shiny as a red ball or turn as much.