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Twilight phase, visibility issue, spinners an afterthought; How the pink ball will behave at Motera Stadium

Inferring from Kolkata Test in November 2019 and the available numbers from the Day-Night Tests played across the globe to date, here is a guide to the second Pink Ball Test that India will stage, in Ahmedabad.

Aratrick Mondal Aratrick Mondal
New Delhi Published on: February 23, 2021 10:00 IST
The SG Pink Ball
Image Source : BCCI

The SG Pink Ball

A year and two months after its debut on Indian soil, the Day-Night Test is back with the Virat Kohli's men taking on England in the third Test of the ongoing four-Test series at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad. Given India's dominating win over Bangladesh in the inaugural Pink-Ball Test, the shortest contest ever played at home, where the hosts clinched an emphatic innings-and-46-run win at the iconic Eden Gardens, the home team clearly is the overwhelming favourite heading into the third Test. But with the England series tied at 1-1, the contest offers more uncertainties amid a lack of conclusive evidence on the behaviour of the SG Pink and the nature of the newly-revamped Sardar Patel Stadium, which now holds the record for highest seating capacity. Inferring from Kolkata Test in November 2019 and the available numbers from the Day-Night Tests played across the globe to date, here is a guide to the second Pink Ball Test that India will stage, in Ahmedabad. 

The ball

The only difference between pink and red ball is that the former variety has an extra lacquer used on the surface to make its shine last long. In fact, as against the shine lasting for only an hour for the red ball, the pink ball retains it for at least a session.

This layer of extra lacquer also caused the ball to travel quicker through the air. Kohli, ahead of the Kolkata Test, had admitted that the factor could pose a huge challenge during fielding. "In the slips balls hit so hard it almost felt like a heavy hockey ball," he explained while further commenting that the ball felt a tad heavier than the red. India had dropped two clear chances - one at slip and the other at fine leg - during the game. 

The new ball had behaved less under the winter sun before the Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav adjusted the length to bowling more fuller deliveries after looking a bit wayward in the first hour where they were unable to release the ball with a straightened seam and hit the right length. However, there were considerable signs of late swing when Mohammed Shami was brought into the attack which considerably increased the necessity of the specialist wicketkeeper in Wriddhiman Saha. And the dismissals of Mohammad Mithun and Mushfiqur Rahim showed the skiddy nature of the SG pink. Post lunch on day 1, the average movement of the ball was 1.4 degrees which increased to 1.8 on the second evening. 

With both the Bangladesh innings lasting 39 and 41 overs each, the only time when the shine of the ball was checked was during India's first innings which lasted 89.3 overs. Three balls were used - the first went out of shape during the 59th over. 

Visibility issue

This was the most-talked-about issue from the game, especially after four different Bangladesh batsmen were hit on their helmets. But while the visitors did not complain about the issue, Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored 55 runs in India's first innings, said that the first session was ideal for batting. “That’s when you play under natural light. Under lights, seeing the ball can be a bit problematic. Also, that’s the time when there isn’t much swing. Then again in the last hour because of the dew, batting becomes easier. It’s the time between these two phases when batting is tougher. That’s when the ball does a few things,” he had explained. 

The Motera pitch

It was difficult to differentiate the pitch from the outfield from the first look of the Motera Stadium last week. Two days later, the same pitch wore a distinctly opposite look, with the surface looking a lot drier and implying a more spin-friendly condition. “The pitch, it has got grass on it but I am pretty sure it’s not going to be there when we turn up on the match day,” James Anderson said on Sunday. But while the veteran pacer is eager to "wait and watch", Rohit Sharma strongly feels that "it'll turn."

If Motera dons a lush green look for the third Test, Anderson might find it difficult to serve the reverse swing, although the surface then would preserve the shine of the ball for a tad longer than if the pitch looks drier. 

Spinners an afterthought?

In 15 Day-Night Tests to date, pacers have taken 354 wickets at 24.47 with a dismissal every 49.7 deliveries. The spinners have averaged 35.38 for the 115 wickets they have taken with the Pink Ball at a strike rate of 65.2. In the Eden Gardens Test, the spinners bowled only 31 overs, 25 of which were bowled by Bangladesh, to take five wickets at 20.60. The pacers, who took the remaining 24 wickets, averaged only 18.62 with a strike rate of 33.4. But it wasn't that pitch befriended the spinners. Taijul Islam found considerable turn and Ashwin found it as well. But the dominance of the pace bowlers disallowed considerable opportunity for the spinners. 

When is batting easier?

Looking back at the Kolkata Test, with the advent of dew, which made the ball a lot heavier, batting looked considerably easy with batters scoring 47.33 runs per dismissal. The bulk of wickets that fell was mostly in the second session when 11 wickets fell for just 133 runs. Another big challenge would be against the new ball under the lights. India went from 304 for 5 to 347 for 9 after the second new ball was introduced. Bangladesh too lost a bulk of their wickets in their wickets at the start of the second innings on Saturday evening. It was also the reason why India had declared before Tea to reap the benefits. 

Kohli, however, did lay the blueprint on how to tackle the three sessions during his knock of 136 where 43 per cent of his runs were scored under the lights. Under lights, it was a different experience. Firstly when I walked out it felt like an IPL game atmosphere so you feel like smashing the first ball but you have to remind yourself that you've to play compact," Kohli said before revealing Sachin Tendulkar's advice to him. "I spoke to Sachin on the evening of the first day and he made a very interesting point that with the pink ball, you'll have to treat the second session like your morning session when it is getting darker and the ball starts to swing and seam. So the first session you invariably play like you play from lunch to tea in a normal timing Test match and then the second session would be like a morning session and the last session is like that evening session."

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