Sport //

Hard and pink

Samuel Chu takes a closer look at cricketers’ balls.

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The Australian summer has a number of fine traditions: that D-grade celebrity circlejerk also known as Carols in the Domain, fighting over cheap perfumes in Myer and Channel Nine’s inevitable summer of cricket.

This summer, South Africa will be Australia’s opponent for the first three test matches, one of which will be a ‘day-night’ match held at Adelaide Oval, necessitating the use of a pink-coloured ball for better visibility in twilight hours.

The day-night fixture is an anomaly. Traditionally test cricket matches have been played over two innings and five days, with each day’s play lasting from mid-morning until late afternoon. A red-coloured ball was always used, for seemingly no other reason than tradition.

For some close to the game, day-night fixtures are sacrilege – their pink balls even more so. South Africa’s captain, AB De Villiers, believes so. He is sceptical of the new ball’s longevity, as well as its visibility under floodlights (despite it being pink to address this very issue). As a very keen viewer of test cricket, and a (very) casual player of the sport, I reckon AB De Villiers should reconsider his position on day-night matches and his pink ball apprehensions. To put it simply, the financial, broadcasting and sporting benefits of day-night games outweigh the minutiae of quasi-issues that have arisen around pink balls.

Test matches that straddle the day-night boundary bring a significant proportion of play into prime time viewing hours. Pink ball matches thus have much greater viewership potential (and financial potential) than red-ball test cricket.

These benefits also extend to live audiences at grounds, as evidenced by the full house at the inaugural day-night match at Adelaide Oval last year. Day-night games better cater to audiences that, in amongst their love of cricket, must attend to life’s inevitabilities, like nine-to-five work and school. Again, there are financial benefits to having bigger live audiences. Scheduling changes and subsequent increases in audience have the added effect of making the traditionally staid sport of cricket enticing and accessible to casual viewers and younger generations, emulating the effects of the newer shorter forms of the game, which did the trick for me.

De Villiers’ gameplay concerns should be allayed – the pink ball has been thoroughly tested in the Sheffield Shield, and initial complaints in this lower tier have dwindled, suggesting all that was needed was time for adjustment. With two practice day-night matches scheduled for the South Africans, they will have a similar opportunity to adapt.

Thus, with the pink ball’s benefits highlighted, and its minor niggles sorted, I’m excited to observe its second year of use in the Australian summer of cricket. Bring on our South African opponents, I say!