The key is to get the ball right

01 Jul 2014

Pink Ball Article

By Paul Marsh, ACA Chief Executive

The concept and viability of Day/ Night Test matches continues to be a lively debate.

Cricket Australia issued a media release yesterday to provide an update on their position and how plans were progressing to stage a Day/ Night Test versus New Zealand as early as the 2015-16 season.

The ACA has been asked by various media outlets, what is the players’ point of view?

The overwhelming majority of players believe the pink Kookaburra ball isn’t yet ready for Test cricket. They’ve told us that it went soft very quickly, didn't swing, didn't seam and didn't reverse swing.  As such it is a ball that is very difficult to get batsmen out with, but also difficult to score runs against because it gets soft quickly. Only 11% of players rated last season’s Sheffield Shield trial a success and just a quarter (25%) felt it provided a fair contest between bat and ball.

These stats are significant because they challenge the notion that Day/ Night Tests are a fait accompli. The enthusiasm some have for the concept is understandable, however, in the ACA’s view the possibility of improved short-term commercial outcomes should not be enough to force this on the game prematurely. The integrity of the contest between bat and ball must be preserved and rather than accept an inferior ball, the key stakeholders in the game should demand that the game finds a solution to these issues before a Day/Night Test match is played.

Whilst CA has pointed to the runs scored and wickets taken in the trials and suggested there’s little difference between these and the season averages for the Sheffield Shield, there is little doubt CA understands the issues with the pink ball and it was encouraging to hear CA CEO James Sutherland say yesterday that they “obviously have the intent of getting the ball as close as possible, in terms of how they behave, to the red ball."

In an interview I did yesterday with Cricinfo (click here to read), I made the point:

“The thing the game probably needs to look at here is that given the way the ball performed, the risk is that with no movement and the ball getting very soft, it could result in a very, very boring game of cricket.”

The risk I see is that the lack of swing from the new ball, and lack of reverse swing, will affect the potency and role of the pacemen, while the premature softening will limit the batsmen’s ability to penetrate the fielding ring.  I fear matches will be dominated by ring fields and a generally defensive approach to the game.  To me this is at odds with what we expect from Test cricket … at least in this country.

The ACA supports the concept of Day/Night Test cricket, however this is on the proviso that a ball can be developed that behaves in the same way as the red ball does.  As such we believe there needs to be further trials and a significant improvement in the suitability of the ball before Day/ Night Tests are introduced. They can’t be ushered in purely because it’s a ‘sexy’ concept that might deliver a bit more money, or because there’s a lure to be ‘the first’, or because a certain time has elapsed since it was first mooted. No, the introduction should only occur if and when the ball is of a standard demanded by the highest level of cricket.

We have commended CA on the way the trials have been handled so far and the players have shown a willingness to continue to trial different ball options until a solution is found. But the views they have expressed on the current pink ball have been strong, and must be respected. After all, there’s little point in trying to tap into new audiences if the product becomes inferior because of the 'tools' they’re forced to use.