Raw numbers debunk pink ball theory

Statistics from day-night Test indicate batting at night no more difficult than during the day

Among the myriad of unknowns heading into the inaugural day-night Test, one of the most talked about factors was how the pink ball would behave under lights once the setting sun had retired beyond the horizon.

Early warnings were sounded from the opening round of the Sheffield Shield season in which the latest version of the pink Kookaburra was used to expose Australia's Test stars to the unique projectile a month out from the historic event.

The word on the street was the pink ball was difficult to pick up between overs 60 to 80, while a newish ball swung appreciably more under lights, causing batsmen all sorts of problems in conditions alien to first-class cricket.

Mitchell Starc proved that theory on day one of the NSW's Shield clash against South Australia at Adelaide Oval, ripping out two top-order batsmen as he and fellow Test quick Josh Hazlewood reduced the Redbacks to 3-3 from six floodlit overs after skipper Steve Smith had declared late in the day.

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So when Brendon McCullum won the toss this past Friday afternoon and opted to bat first in the Test game's first plunge into pink ball cricket, thoughts fast forwarded five hours to the night session and how New Zealand's batsmen would counter Australia's speedsters on a lush wicket under the towering spotlights.

While the Black Caps could only manage 10 overs after the dinner break before their innings ended at 202, they contributed three wickets and Australia two to the night session tally of five, which was followed by another five wickets on night two and four on night three.

Those numbers would suggest the third session under lights is difficult to bat in, but a closer examination of the bowling performances throughout the match reveals little difference between batting at the start of the day's play and at the end.

With 14 victims over three days, the night session yielded only one more wicket than the afternoon session (13), while the cost of each dismissal was exactly the same at 18 runs apiece.

Bowlers were slightly more penetrating after dinner than they were before tea, striking at 36.57 balls per wicket at night compared to 38.62 in the opening stanza of play where batsmen scored slightly more freely (2.95 runs per over compared to 2.8).

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During the darkest period of the night, from the final drinks break until stumps, the numbers suggest batting is no harder than when the sun's presence is known.

In that period, generally the last hour to hour and a half, wickets cost 21 runs each and were taken every 46 deliveries, while the scoring rate (2.74) was at its lowest.

In contrast, the numbers from the evening session - sandwiched between tea and dinner - indicate this period was ripe for batting. A total of ten wickets fell in that session across the three days at a strike rate of 49.40 and an average of 33.50, with runs coming at 4.07 runs per over.

With such a small sample size, whether or not batting against the pink ball is harder at night than in the day is yet to be completely determined.

But one thing is certain; cricket has been played in daylight hours for 138 years and batsmen have always found a way to be dismissed in the sunshine. 

Day-night Test: Session-by-session breakdown

Day 1
Afternoon: 2-80 from 28 overs
Evening: 5-93 from 28 overs
Night: 5-83 from 31.2 overs

Day 2
Afternoon: 6-62 from 29.5 overs
Evening: 2-130 from 27 overs
Night: 5-94 from 30 overs

Day 3
Afternoon: 5-92 from 25.5 overs
Evening: 3-113 from 28 overs
Night: 4-74 from 23 overs

Afternoon: 13-234 from 83.4 overs
Evening: 10-336 from 85 overs
Night: 14-251 from 84.2 overs