Domain Test Series v Pakistan
Stop the comparisons: Captain Paine thinks pink
Aussie skipper enthused by day-night Test product and feels the best players will adapt to a concept attracting new fans to cricket
Andrew Ramsey at the Adelaide Oval
2 December 2019, 10:18 PM AEST
Had Tim Paine not opted to give cricket one final crack, he might conceivably be travelling throughout Australia spruiking the virtues of the ball that's used in this nation's international matches.
As he's recounted many times, Paine was on the cusp of taking up a job with cricket gear manufacturer Kookaburra at the end of the 2016-17 summer when he was recalled to the Test team after a seven-year absence.
Within six months of his Test comeback, he was appointed captain in circumstances that nobody foresaw, or will forget.
And it was in his current guise as front guy for the men's Test team, rather than in the job he forewent as ambassador for bats and balls, that Paine threw his unequivocal endorsement behind the still-developing day-night format and the pink spheres that remain its most debated characteristic.
As Australia's vaunted pace attack laboured for wickets on a flat Adelaide Oval pitch on Monday afternoon, armed with an ageing ball that offered little in the way of swing, seam or bounce, the merits of the four-year-old day-night concept was undergoing scrutiny almost as intense as Pakistan's obdurate middle-order batters.
Adelaide Oval's drop-in pitch, which Australia's bowlers had assessed as the nation's best for their craft, wore some of the blame because it no longer cracks up and wears out as did the wicket blocks back in the days of fabled curator, Les Burdett.
Although given the wintry weather, and the fact the match was decided effectively with a session to spare on day four, it's likely one of Burdett's tracks – that invariably delivered results in the final hours of day five – would have behaved vastly differently.
What has changed since Adelaide Oval was redeveloped as a multi-purpose entertainment stadium and Damian Hough took over the gardening tools is that the showpiece annual Test match has become a day-night event, using the luminescent pink ball.
And when Paine was asked, in the wake of his team's emphatic win by an innings and 48 runs, if he and his bowlers continued to harbour reservations about the durability and performance of the magenta Kookaburra ball that has undergone several subtle changes since the inaugural day-night Test in 2015, he could not have been more emphatic.
"I think what we need to stop doing is comparing the pink ball to the red ball," Paine said on Monday night.
"It's not going to behave the same; it isn't the same ball.
"What we want is people watching Test match cricket, and I think the pink-ball, day-night Test certainly makes that happen.
"It's bringing new people to the game."
Paine's point is backed up by free-to-air television ratings released by Channel Seven over the weekend that showed 4.67 million viewers across Australia tuned into Sunday's coverage, as Australia scythed through Pakistan's top order in the night session.
That came after 4.19 million watched David Warner score an historic triple-century on Saturday, and then the Australia quicks – Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood – reduced Pakistan to 6-96 under floodlights.
Despite weather that more often resembled football conditions at the Australian rules stronghold, attendances also topped 91,879 across the (almost) four days which meant the daily average crowd was not vastly different to that drawn to last year's daytime Test against India.
Not that Paine airbrushed over the issues that were being discussed while his bowlers were hard at work, chiseling out the Pakistan middle-order that proved a far tougher nut to crack in the cool light of day than under the glare of floodlights.
"I don't think people understand how difficult it can be to get wickets with that pink ball, particularly during the day," Paine said, in paying tribute to off-spinner Nathan Lyon who returned Monday's day's decisive figures of 5-69.
"It's not going to behave like a red ball, it's not going to behave like a white ball.
"It's going to behave like a pink ball and at the moment, it's relatively new,
"We're getting used to it, and it can be challenging at night and fielding in the slips."
Paine also revealed it carries an element of risk for wicketkeepers, although he dismissed suggestions that the couple of stinging blows he copped on his fingers while keeping on Sunday had inflicted significant injury.
"You tend to cop a few more, and I find it a bit hard to judge the distance," Paine said of the perils posed by the pink ball.
"It hits your hands a bit earlier than you think, but I'll be fine."
But as the skipper was at pains to highlight, the shift to day-night Test matches is driven by the game's need to be more accessible for paying public and television viewers alike.
And in scheduling the game at times of the day that maximises the number of eyeballs it can attract, it's then incumbent on the practitioners in the middle to ensure they adapt to the vagaries that pink balls, floodlights and biting evening cold might present.
"From a players' point of view, day-night Test cricket creates different challenges, so the best players will find ways to succeed," Paine said.
"Mitchell Starc's done it – his record is unbelievably good with the pink ball; David Warner's just got a triple century; Marnus (Labuschagne) got a hundred.
"All the good players score runs and take wickets regardless of the colour (of the ball), I just think it's a slight shift in how we're thinking about it.
"But I don't think that's any different to a white ball sometimes, so that's something players will adapt to and get better at.
"In terms of the product, it's great to watch."
From Pakistan captain Azhar Ali's perspective, the challenge was not simply adjusting to the pink ball and floodlights.
Where Pakistan was found wanting in consecutive Test losses by an innings and more was in their top-order batters' ability to score runs, their capacity to create meaningful scoring partnerships at any stage, their lack of penetration with the new ball, and their absence of containment strategies when it became old.
Indeed, apart from centuries to Babar Azam (in Brisbane) and Yasir Shah (Adelaide), some middle-order pluck from keeper Mohammad Rizwan, and new Test caps handed to a pair of teenagers – Naseem Shah and Musa Khan – the tour brought few highlights, as has so often been the case for Pakistan in Australia.
"These are the best batting conditions, anywhere in the world because there's even bounce and not many cracks open (in pitches) early in the game," Azhar said at series' end.
"So if you get used to the bounce and pace, we have seen in the past that players from Pakistan can score runs.
"Last time we scored runs when we came here (in 2016), I scored a lot of runs and Asad (Shafiq) also scored runs.
"But to win Test matches you have to take 20 wickets, that's what we have to work out – how we can get 20 wickets in Australia."
Given they claimed only 13 Australia wickets across the entire two-Test series, finding 20 in a single match looms as a hefty assignment.
Regardless of the ball's hue, and the ambient lighting's source.
Domain Test Series v Pakistan
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner
Pakistan squad: Azhar Ali (c), Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Imran Khan Snr, Iftikhar Ahmed, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Musa Khan, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Yasir Shah.
First Test: Australia won by an innings and five runs.