England led astray by promises of pink ball

Sam Drury

@SamDrury11

England had high hopes for the day-night Test but day one in Ahmedabad suggests they miscalculated the damage their seamers could do with the pink ball with swing at a premium and the spinners making hay on a dry, dusty surface

Last Updated: 24/02/21 6:32pm

England struggled to get the pink ball swinging under lights in the final session (Pic credit - BCCI)
England struggled to get the pink ball swinging under lights in the final session (Pic credit – BCCI)

England will have had their eyes on this day-night Test match for some time.

It had nothing to do with the brand, spanking new 110,000-seater stadium or even the pitch they expected to play on in Ahmedabad; it was all about getting that pink ball in the hands of their seamers under lights.

In fairness to them, they managed to do just that on day one of the third Test. Unfortunately, that was due to them getting bundled out for just 112 having won the toss and chosen to bat.

Before we go any further, it is important to note that that is the overriding problem for England. You are not going to win many Test matches in the subcontinent, or anywhere else for that matter, if you are getting bowled out inside two sessions of the first day and barely make it to three figures.

What makes matters worse though, is that it is looking increasingly likely that the tourists have got the make-up of their XI quite badly wrong and it is all down to one thing: that pink ball under lights.

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From the very first day-night Test between Australia and New Zealand, in Adelaide in late 2015, it has become an accepted fact within cricket – with good reason – that once the floodlights come on, the pink ball will start to swing.

After being undone by India’s spinners over the years, it is perhaps understandable that England chose to focus their attention on this truism of Test cricket.

While a pitch that turns early and often favours India, as the second Test in Chennai emphasised rather conclusively, a game in which the seamers hold sway levels the playing field significantly.

Add into the mix that India themselves now boast a fine array of fast bowlers and it was not inconceivable that they might produce a pitch that while offering something for the spinners, would also bring Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and co into the equation as well.

England then arrived in Ahmedabad on the back of a humbling defeat in which Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel had run amok, got hold of the pink balls in the nets and quickly perked up.

“Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson and Jofra Archer have been licking their lips, I can tell you,” Ben Stokes told talkSPORT in the build-up. “It’s a completely different game.

Ben Stokes was encouraged by how much England's pace bowlers got the pink ball moving in nets (Credit: BCCI)
Ben Stokes was encouraged by how much England’s pace bowlers got the pink ball moving in nets (Credit: BCCI)

“It was funny in training yesterday, when the lights came on, the nets actually got really dangerous.”

Anderson himself had warned that it would be a mistake to assume the pink ball would do as much in the middle as it had in the nets but given Stokes’ account of that net session, it was not a huge surprise when all three of Broad, Anderson and Archer were named in the XI with Jack Leach the only frontline spinner.

Perhaps the alarm bells should have started ringing when Virat Kohli announced that India had again selected three spinners and only two seamers.

Very quickly there was talk of one of the sides having made a big mistake with their team selection but equally, before a ball was bowled, it could just as easily be argued that both sides had chosen to play to their strengths: India backing their spinners to do the damage again no matter what colour the ball was and England putting their faith in their seamers to wreak havoc with a ball they expected to be whizzing around under the lights.

India’s plan certainly worked as England collapsed from 74-2 to 112 all out, nine of the wickets falling to spin – there was some sharp turn but mostly it was the deliveries that skidded on that caused the most problems.

Left-arm spinner Axar Patel ripped through England with six wickets (Pic credit - BCCI)
Left-arm spinner Axar Patel ripped through England with six wickets (Pic credit – BCCI)

England then had five overs with the new ball before the dinner break and while they didn’t take a wicket – a quick decision from the third umpire to overturn the soft signal of ‘out’ when Shubman Gill edged Broad to Stokes at second slip saw to that – there was more than enough lateral movement, particularly for Anderson, to suggest the visitors’ hunch had been right too.

When the players returned from the break 40 minutes later though, it was a different story. Dew was appearing on the outfield as the temperature dropped and all but the merest hint of swing seemed to have disappeared.

Archer came on and made the breakthrough but it was a short ball rather than any lavish lateral movement that undid Gill and it was the left-arm spin of Leach that got rid of Cheteshwar Pujara.

Anderson came back for a second spell and should have got Kohli, Ollie Pope dropping a regulation chance at gully, but again, the chance did not come as a result of any significant swing or seam movement, rather it was a hint of extra bounce that surprised the India captain.

Jack Leach removed both Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli (Pic credit - BCCI)
Jack Leach removed both Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli (Pic credit – BCCI)

The hardness of the ball, thanks to the extra lacquer on the pink ball, likely contributed to that but it is the spinners who have most benefitted from it with those deliveries that have just skipped on with the arm.

Shortly before the close of play, CricViz calculated that spinners found 21 per cent false shots, compared to the 13 per cent managed by the seamers on either side and that was before Kohli dragged onto his stumps from Leach.

Knowing their seamers would have the pink ball to work with, England were perhaps guilty of looking up at the lights and found themselves tempted by the treasures that combination might bring.

Given the dry, dusty surface below though, it is looking increasingly likely that those treasures were little more than a mirage.

Follow text commentary from day two of the day-night third Test between India and England in Ahmedabad on skysports.com and the Sky Sports app from 8.30am on Thursday.

Source : Sky Sports