From blue to orange, red, purple and finally black. The serene, beautiful sunset over this ground last night served as a metaphor for the change cricket was experiencing before our eyes, as the 2,190th Test match became the first to be played at night.
And there were more eyes than had seen cricket here since the Bodyline Test of 1933: 47,411 sets of them by the close of play. Eyes stimulated by what they saw. So many days of Test cricket settle into a formula, but not this one. Curiosity and anticipation inspired a 100-metre entry queue three hours before play began, in contrast to Brisbane’s empty Gabba, where the first Test of this series was played. There was intrigue as to what would come next. Before a ball was bowled the ground buzzed like the moments before a band takes to a stadium stage.
So many firsts. Ball: Mitchell Starc to Martin Guptill. Run: Guptill behind point. Boundary: Tom Latham. Wicket: Josh Hazlewood. To the end: the first bye coming from the final ball of the day.
So much novelty. What fruit would we adopt for the ball, with cherry no longer fit for purpose? Peach? Pink Lady Apple? Maybe ditch the fruit thing all together and dub it a Panther? What about the drinks break now scheduled for 5:20pm – should we call that happy hour? They laughed and debated.
New Zealand won the toss and weren’t deterred from batting by the foreign grass on the Adelaide pitch, left on to help preserve a ball that has struggled on more abrasive surfaces during trial matches. The visitors should have made a better fist of it. Their captain, Brendon McCullum, was most culpable at the end of a three-wicket collapse in the space of 11 balls just after the first interval. But yesterday was more important than who took first-day honours. It was a live examination in front of the entire cricket world, and by the measure that matters – the quality of play – it was emphatically passed.
As the twilight set in, Tim Southee cleared the fence for the only time in the innings, and a lad in the crowd square of the wicket took a spectacular catch. It was an important symbolic moment. If someone in the cheap seats could take that catch, why worry about professionals picking up the ball in the deep?
Those were worries underpinned by the idea that the pink ball doesn’t stay pink long enough. Balls used in domestic matches had ended up a shade of green. This wasn’t the experience last night. The ball Australia bowled with for 65.2 overs was as pink at the end as it was at the start. Viewing it up close, there was no green to be seen. On television, it was no different to normal programming. Shane Warne even cheekily suggested that it worked so well that it could replace the red ball, full stop.
“The ball has been fantastic to see, even during the day in normal sunlight you could see it easily,” he said. “It has been absolutely outstanding.”
Then there was the excitement after dark when the game shifted gears as the sky was at its darkest. With Australia now batting, as Trent Boult got the ball to swing round corners to David Warner, earning his edge and dismissal in the process, it was riveting viewing. Australia’s frailty against the swinging ball was readily exposed during the Ashes summer, and the new pink ball after dark generated that challenge once more. There wasn’t a single eye anywhere but on the middle. It was the best of Test cricket, with a far healthier balance between ball and bat than we’ve become accustomed to during this high-scoring series so far.
The threshold question for this enterprise always came down to the tools of the trade: the ball standing up to scrutiny and earning the respect of those who have to go out there and use it. Peter Siddle took 198 of his Test wickets with the red ball and reached his double-century milestone with the pink.
“It was a great day, wasn’t it?” said Siddle after play. “I think everyone here that came and witnessed what went on will be very impressed just with the whole experience.”
The New Zealand seamer Boult was equally upbeat, describing the atmosphere as “electric” and saying: “It definitely is exciting for Test match cricket.” But he did sound a note of caution. “The findings are it does seem to change a lot under lights and in the last session,” he said. “It definitely swung around a little bit there with the new ball, and there was still a shade of it with it 22 overs old now.
“We need to see a bit more of it, to be honest... We’ve got to see how this one goes and how it pans out.”
But Siddle was not to be moved. “I think for cricket it’s definitely been a great day,” he said.
It really was for those in the stands. And after it, the cynicism surrounding the pink ball has been relegated to the obstinate minority. The history we saw made last night means that the future is now.
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