The Duleep Trophy final started on Wednesday in Bengaluru between India Green and India Red. India Blue were already out, and the colour pink also never made an appearance. For the past three seasons, the Duleep Trophy was played with the pink ball under lights. This season, it was reported that only the final would be played with the pink ball, but even that is being played with the red ball, after the BCCI appeared to change its mind at the last minute and made it a day match.
Last month, when the Duleep schedule was released, Saba Karim, BCCI’s general manager of cricket, had said that the final would be a pink-ball contest. “We have floodlights at the Chinnaswamy, but we are not playing with the pink ball under lights as there is no live coverage. Only the final match will be a day-night affair as that’s the only match to be aired live,” Karim had told PTI on August 6.
But last week, when ESPNcricinfo contacted Karim for a clarification, he said that the Duleep final was never meant to be played under lights, but did not elaborate on the reasons. “It (the final) was never supposed to be a day-night game. It will be a live telecast, but it’s not under lights and not with the pink ball,” he said.
While on the one hand, there is no proper answer explaining the switch, the biggest stakeholders – the players – are not concerned at all.
“The new ball swings for four-five overs but not more than that. Once it gets older, there is nothing happening in terms of spin or seam or reverse swing. It just becomes dead after the first ten overs”
Faiz Fazal, the India Green captain, is not a fan of playing with the pink ball. “I never liked the pink ball, to be very honest,” he said after the last league game of the tournament. “Thankfully we have changed this year from pink ball to red ball, and that’s a great thing.”
At the international level, it has been observed that the pink ball swings more under lights. However, the same wasn’t true when it was used in Indian conditions in the domestic circuit. Also, there were concerns about the quality of the ball.
“There was nothing for bowlers [with the pink ball],” Fazal said. “On Indian wickets, if you play out the first spell from seamers, no team can make a comeback. You just keep getting those big hundreds and then people get selected based on those scores. I don’t think that was very competitive cricket.
“After ten overs, there is no seam on the ball. Even as a batsman, I am saying there should be some competition. Thankfully, we had turning tracks last year [in Dindigul]. There was something in the wicket. That’s why the pink ball worked for spinners. But I don’t think we should continue with it.”
As it is, India haven’t played a pink-ball Test until now. While under the tournament rules of the World Test Championship, the home board can include a day-night Test in the schedule, the BCCI hasn’t shown any inclination to walk that route. The same sentiment is now being echoed in domestic cricket.
“As the Indian team, when do we play with the pink ball?” Fazal said. “Never. And we don’t accept it as well. Why all the trials should be carried out in the Duleep Trophy? We are also spending a lot of time in first-class cricket, getting all those runs and all those wickets to come here and then to play with the pink ball, I don’t think that’s right.”
Jaydev Unadkat, the new-ball bowler for India Red, backed Fazal’s viewpoint. Unadkat said the biggest issue was the lack of reverse swing with the pink ball. Moreover, the seam wasn’t staying firm after the first few overs and that made it difficult for spinners to grip the ball.
“The current variant [of the pink ball] is not really made for our conditions,” Unadkat said. “It gets soft really soon and doesn’t reverse as the red ball usually does. In England and Australia, where the ball swings conventionally more than here, it’s a good idea to play with it. But here you require some sort of reverse swing later on.
“The new ball swings for four-five overs but not more than that. Once it gets older, there is nothing happening in terms of spin or seam or reverse swing. It just becomes dead after the first ten overs. And the seam especially goes inside, so it doesn’t really do much for spinners either. Those were the points that were discussed after the last season and the feedback was given. That’s what the BCCI has acted upon, I guess.”
Kolkata, Lucknow and Dindigul were the centres that hosted Duleep Trophy matches in the last three seasons when it was played with the pink ball. However, the pitches there did not facilitate the swing factor.
One Indian umpire, who did not want to be named but has officiated in day-night matches overseas in domestic first-class cricket, explained the pink ball used in the Duleep Trophy lost the lacquer very quickly and “became darker”, making visibility difficult under lights. He pointed out that the ball would become soft quickly and the seam would unravel pretty easily.
This official stood at a venue where the pitch had an even grass cover of 5mm, which came handy in the final session under lights. “There was an even contest. Because of the grass cover, the ball did not get scruffed very easily and would swing under lights throughout the last session. But in India, it is not possible because the surfaces are not conducive.”
So does that mean India will not play pink-ball cricket, at least in the near future? Karim told PTI that the BCCI was not ruling out playing pink-ball matches in the future if all the stakeholders agreed. “If everyone associated with Indian cricket is on the same page, maybe we can think of playing India A first-class games with pink balls,” he said. “I am not saying anything is confirmed, but you never know if everyone comes on the same page.”