Australia v New Zealand Tests
Starc 'not convinced' by pink balls
Fast bowler one of few among Australia's Ashes squad to be concerned about the concept
Andrew Ramsey Chelmsford
30 June 2015, 06:00 PM AEST
As the dusk settled on yesterday’s confirmation of the historic first day-night Test later this year, Australia’s World Cup bowling hero Mitchell Starc made it clear that he remains unconvinced about the viability of the pink ball as a substitute for the traditional red one.
Around the time the announcement that Australia would host New Zealand at the Adelaide Oval from November 27 in the first-ever Test match scheduled under lights, a portion of Australia’s Ashes squad was conducting a round of media interviews at the team’s country club lodgings near Colchester.
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Quizzed as to their thoughts on the game’s next evolutionary revolution, the players who will likely form a bulk of the line-up to take the field in that match were perhaps predictably split along demarcation lines relating to their individual designation within the team.
Batsman Steve Smith and ‘keeper Brad Haddin described it as an “exciting” concept, pace bowlers Mitchell Johnson and Josh Hazlewood cautiously articulated their views about tinkering with the game’s traditions, while allrounder Shane Watson diplomatically strode a middle path.
But it was Starc, man of the tournament in Australia’s recent World Cup triumph and currently regarded as one of the game’s most potent bowlers due to his capacity to swing the ball whether red or white, who was quickly on to the front foot to voice his concerns.
Having played for New South Wales against South Australia at the Adelaide Oval last summer when the format was trialled in a round of Bupa Sheffield Shield matches, Starc found that not only did the newly developed pink ball fail to swing when new or old, or to retain its hardness, he also found it tough to see when fielding.
“It's definitely not a red ball,” Starc said when asked for his thoughts on the initiative that will doubtless engender ongoing debate among players and fans on both sides of the Tasman Sea.
“It doesn't react anything like the red ball, in terms of swing and the hardness of it.
“It goes soft pretty quickly, I didn't see a huge amount of reverse swing in that game (in Adelaide) and I don't think it swung from memory too much until the artificial light took over.
“It definitely reacts very, very differently to the red ball.”
Starc didn't find any swing with the pink ball in Adelaide last summer // Getty Images
Starc recalled that Gurinder Sandhu, his new-ball partner in that Shield match, managed to get it to swing “a little bit when it was brand new” but he wasn’t sure if the pink ball’s different properties were due to variations in the leather and/or the lacquer used in the traditional red Kookaburra ball.
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He indicated he had some sympathy for those who claim – due to the absence of other imminent day-night Tests on the international calendar and the fact the pink ball behaves differently to the red one that other nations will continue to use – that perhaps a new sub-set of statistics might need to be created for day-night Tests
He also acknowledged he had been told the pink ball had improved markedly over recent years, and that he could appreciate the rationale behind the pursuit of day-night Test matches in order to maximise the game’s appeal and accessibility to spectators and viewers.
“I can understand why it's happening, and how we’re trying to progress the game and evolve the game but I guess time will tell whether it works or not,” Starc said.
"I'm yet to be convinced.
“I've only played that one game (for NSW) with the pink ball and had a day's preparation before that, so either side of that I haven't touched the thing.
"The other thing as well is, personally, I couldn't see the thing at night on the boundary.
“I couldn't see the ball, so I'm not sure how the crowd are going to see it."
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Hazlewood, who experienced the first Shield trial of the pink ball playing for NSW in Adelaide two summers ago, echoed Starc’s view – though not quite so volubly – about the manner in which the ball lost its hardness although he added that facet had improved through subsequent enhancements.
The 24-year-old, named man of the series for his exploits in the recent two-Test tour of the Caribbean, also noted that in its original incarnation in 2013-14 the ball his team was using lost its shape just as it was beginning to exhibit reverse swing.
But the Blues were unable to replace it with another ball showing similar wear and tear because its novelty status meant there was not a ready supply of used pink balls from which to select a spare and they were therefore forced to settle for a considerably newer, shinier version.
“You'd think it (a newer ball) is going to be good, but the pink newer ball was harder and created more scoring opportunities (for South Australia’s batsmen),” Hazlewood said.
“But I think it (the ball) has improved since then.
“Obviously the more you use it, the more people train with it, the more balls you're going to get to change it with in the future.”
It was not only the match officials in charge of sorting and issuing replacement balls whose exposure to the pink variety has been limited.
Johnson hasn’t had one in his hand since the days a decade ago when he was playing grade cricket in Brisbane and they would occasionally practice with early iterations of the pink or orange balls.
As a consequence, Johnson was reluctant to be drawn on the pros and cons of the day-night Test concept until closer to its implementation, though he was prepared to make a generic observation about the importance of preserving the five-day game’s historical integrity.
“I don’t really want to talk about it now but I’ll happily talk about it after this Ashes series,” he said yesterday.
“But one thing is I love the tradition of Test cricket – things like the Baggy Green and little things like wearing the woollen jumper – we had an option to change that but we wanted to keep that as a tradition.
“I think tradition in the game is very important.”
Watson’s experience with pink ball is even more limited.
The allrounder revealed yesterday he’s never laid eyes on the version of the ball he could lining up to face or running into bowl in the third and final Test of this year’s series against New Zealand.
As a member of the Australian Cricketers’ Association executive, Watson has been privy to much of the discussion between the players’ union, Cricket Australia and broadcaster Channel Nine since the notion of day-night Test matches was first mooted some years ago.
Given his direct role, Watson is understandably non-equivocal about any pre-conceived views on day-night Tests, noting simply that it’s had strong support from CA and Nine and the only objective judgement as to its success or otherwise will come after the game has been staged.
But the 34-year-old also claimed he had spoken about the proposal at length with New Zealand seamer and Rajasthan Royals teammate Tim Southee amid earlier concerns aired by the NZ Players Association about the Black Caps misgivings over the “gimmicky” concept.
“I think it’s definitely the unknown of the ball and how that’s going to react,” Watson said when asked about the reason for the initial concern of the New Zealanders who have now agreed to the idea.
“Most of us haven’t played a game with the pink ball so that’s a big unknown how that’s going to play, but also how the conditions might change when the sun goes down and how that could really affect the Test match, especially two high-quality sides with some very good fast bowlers.
“So those unknowns are something that we players have talked about quite a lot, but until we actually play it we don’t know exactly the impact those things could have.”
Smith, the world’s top-ranked Test batsman, said he had gained experience with a pink ball when he was at the Commonwealth Bank Cricket Academy in 2009 and was involved in matches against New Zealand.
He also noted there had been historical concerns about the performance of the ball from those embryonic days but added he understood its development had improved significantly and – provided it was ready for Test match use – he was a supporter of the day-night proposal.
“I think it's pretty exciting that it's going to be going ahead (and) hopefully it will bring in the crowds,” Smith said yesterday.
“I was watching the vision (of last summer’s pink ball trials) on the Cricket Australia app and it looked like it played pretty well.
“There was a bit of reverse (swing), the wicket was a little bit dry (and) I don't think anyone had any dramas picking it up.
“The reports from that game were pretty positive so I think it's going to be good to try something a little bit different.”
Haddin, who like Blues’ teammates Starc, Hazlewood, Watson and Smith, is likely to be available to play for NSW in a day-night Sheffield Shield match at Adelaide Oval in the weeks prior to the historic day-night Test, said he was excited by the prospect of being a part of cricket history.
“It's always good to be involved in something new,” he said.
“If they have the ball right, and Kookaburra have done a good job with that, it'd be interesting to play it and see where it goes after that.
“It's going ahead so we might as well embrace it and enjoy it.
“And we're playing with a pink ball – my daughter (four-year-old Mia) will like it.”