Enjoy pink ball uncertainty while it lasts

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Adelaide

CRICKET is an alchemy of the certain and the uncertain, of teasing tangents and tall targets, and the perennial probability that anything is possible. Then, one step beyond all that, there’s the unknowable.

Or, as Faf du Plessis said after South Africa’s first experience of pink-ball, day/night test cricket in Adelaide, “I don’t even know what to expect. We got 250 but it feels like we got more, but it isn’t a massive score.

“The (pink-ball) game speeds up because there’s a lot more action on the ball. So 250 is perhaps 350 with the red ball.

“But this is all speculation, and where I think we are in the game.”

Talk about the glorious uncertainty of sport. And talk about it Du Plessis and his team surely have.

“Everything feels weird about it. We’re going to get back (to the hotel) at 11pm. Your brain will be spinning for another two hours. That’s normal when you finish a game.

“So you go to bed at 2am and wake up at 8am and you’ve got to go again.”

To the unknowing, changing the colour of the ball and the hours of play will seem superficial. To some extent they’re right.

The latest iteration of the pink ball is significantly improved on what came before and the difference in artificial lighting from, say, 20 years ago is the difference between night and day.

But other changes the pink ball will bring to test cricket are more subtle, like what we saw on the first day in Adelaide.

“Someone had the courage to declare with nine wickets down and without eking out the last few runs,” former South African wicketkeeper Dave Richardson, these days the chief executive of the International Cricket Council, said.

That someone was Du Plessis, who declared on 259/9 with 14 overs left in the day/night’s play.

Were the ball red and the sun still in the sky his decision would have sent eyebrows soaring and thoughts lurching towards match-fixing.

But, in just the third day/night test, there is perhaps a subconscious reluctance to take cricket’s newest toy too seriously. Not for long.

“We’re finding that the ball can last better than expected and that the pitches don’t need to be as green or as grassy as we thought previously,” Richardson said.

“But the climatic conditions and the quality of the floodlights has to be carefully looked at before willy-nilly going and scheduling these matches.”

So, while we have it, let’s enjoy the uncertainty.

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