All those who thought playing a Test under lights in the subcontinent would further tilt the scales in favour of batsmen may have to think again. After his first experience batting against the pink ball, one of India’s batting mainstays and vice-captain, Ajinkya Rahane, had a different story to share.
The feedback from India players—Cheteshwar Pujara, MohammedShami, Wriddhiman Saha, Kuldeep Yadav, Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma and R Ashwin—who have played a pink-ball game at least once at domestic or club level, revealed a few traits. Dew is a factor and makes batting easier under lights; spinners find it difficult to grip and hence it doesn’t spin much; the moisture from the ground spreads uniformly over the ball, which makes it difficult to develop a ball for reverse swing. Incidentally, all the 11 day-night long-form matches in India were played with the Kookaburra ball, which is machine-made and so the seam is not pronounced. The Kookaburra also did not swing much after the initial overs and batsmen had the upper hand.
Rahane said playing with the pink SG ball, which will be used for India’s first-ever day-night Test in Kolkata against Bangladesh, would be a “different ball game”. Rahane, Shami and Ravindra Jadeja had two long practice sessions with the pink SG ball at the NCA in Bengaluru before joining the Test squad here and the vice-captain said playing close to the body would be the key. “We had three or four sessions but two with pink ball—one during the day and one under lights. Shami and Jadeja were also there. It was exciting. It was the first time I played with pink ball and it’s a different ball game compared to the red ball. Our focus during practice was to look into the swing and seam and also play close to our body. We found the pink ball does a lot more than the red. We have to play slightly late. We had a word with Rahul (Dravid) bhai also as he was there,” he said on Tuesday. Dravid heads NCA.
“The lateral movement is big, a lot more than the red. I’m sure we’ll get two good practice sessions in Kolkata. I’m sure everyone will adjust very quickly. It’s just the mindset, technical skills will play a role. But mentally if you can adjust to the pink ball, it’ll be good,” he said. “Generally when dew comes into play, it becomes easy for batsmen. But I don’t know how the pink SG ball will behave when dew sets in. Our spinners had played (in 2016 Duleep Trophy) with Kookaburra. It’s different. We played against spinners in Bangalore with SG, and they were getting good revvs (revolutions to impart spin) on the ball. The shine is also completely different to the red. What I’ve heard from others was that the Kookaburra is easy for batsmen but in Bangalore the SG pink ball was doing quite a bit for the pacers. For spinners, it was slightly difficult but it’s very difficult for me to compare the Kookaburra and SG because I haven’t played the pink ball before.”
Rahane’s inputs must have trickled into the Indian dressing room and on Tuesday at a side net, skipper Virat Kohli straightaway began by taking throwdowns with a new pink SG ball. It was afternoon and sighting the ball should not have been a problem but it did appear the pink ball bounced more (Shubman Gill was hit on his side and needed medical attention at the nets). After Kohli finished with the throwdowns and shifted to the main net, Pujara took his place and received throwdowns with both pink and red balls. He was followed by Gill, Hanuma Vihari and Rahane as edges flew thick and fast. This drill could have been for mental adjustment, like Rahane said. Batting against both the balls simultaneously could help a batsman play every ball on its merit and take its colour and characteristics out of the equation.
The India squad however did not wait until twilight to test whether they could pick the pink ball comfortably, but according to Rahane, “the focus right now is on the Indore Test. We will get at least two solid sessions in Kolkata and that should be enough”.