Friday, 11 July 2014

Pink Balls

They are going to have a day-night Test match.

Sounds good to me, I love watching cricket in the evenings. My wife will hate it. Come to think of it, I probably won't be allowed to watch it.

Apparently this is why they are doing it – better ratings on the telly.

Like the Perth Test match, apparently that gets better ratings because the time difference means its on in the evening in the Eastern States.

You know Perth, that would be the venue that isn't getting a Test this season. So … not that lucrative then?

The trouble is they can't find a ball to play with. They've tried orange, they've tried green, and now they have pink balls.

The reaction to the pink ball has been … let's call it mixed.

One complaint, from the batsmen who got out against it, is they can't see it that well. I assume by that under normal circumstances they see the ball perfectly well all the time. A real good view of it sliding past the outside edge and smashing into off stump.

The other complaint is that it doesn't play the same, it doesn't swing or seam as much, perhaps doesn't bounce as much as a red Kookaburra.

I'd like to take a short detour here to celebrate what a magnificent game we have. Like life itself it is the product of an extremely unlikely string of coincidences and too-convenient arrangements. If the planet was a just a little further or a little closer to the sun, if it didn't have that orbital wobble, if another whopping great hunk of rock hadn't settled just far enough away etc.

The cricket ball is a lump of cork, wrapped in string and sewn into a couple of bits of cow skin.

It turns out that the cow skin has just the right properties to last just the right amount of time and do just the right things when sailing through the air or contacting a piece of compacted clay to make the game of cricket just exactly as complex as it needs to be.

And when treated the ball goes red, a beautiful rich cherry red. No treatment will produce the same qualities, but with a different colour. Amazing, really. An absolutely natural game.

To make different colours they have to colour it artificially, with lacquer, and the lacquer changes the way the ball behaves.

But, of course, the balls aren't all the same anyway.

Even using the same brand there is quite a bit of variation. Anyone who has looked into a box of brand-new Kookaburras has noticed the range of colours that cherry red comes in.

And then in England they have the Duke, and in India the SG. The balls behave so differently that countries make agreements about which ball they will use.

The most obvious contrast is between the Duke and the Kookaburra, and the essential differences are the higher seam and the extra lacquer on the Duke ball. It means the ball (potentially, if you have the talent to do it) swings slightly more slightly later and may also cut more off the seam.

They still play though. The balls are different – but the balance between bat and ball is the same.

The pink ball doesn't behave exactly the way a lovely cherry red Kookaburra does.

I am wondering if they have tried changing the ball itself? Raise the seam so it cuts off the wicket more, for example, or change the pattern of stitching searching for extra swing?

After all, it doesn't have to behave just like a cherry red Kookaburra. It only has to give the bowler enough assistance to create a balance between bat and ball.

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