Australia take on New Zealand in final game of series on Friday with ticket sales boosted to “Ashes-like levels” by new format
By Isabelle Westbury, Adelaide
Walking into the Adelaide Oval on the eve of the historic first ever day/night Test, something doesn’t sit quite right. It takes a moment or two to notice, but soon it hits. The centre square.
It’s only three wickets wide. Usually, a Test venue would feature at least eight wickets in preparation for a demanding international summer. Thanks to an AC/DC concert staged here just a few days ago, however, Australia’s fad for drop-in pitches, on this occasion with far more grass than usual, is apparently a thoroughly good thing. A thoroughly good thing for the source of much debate in Australia of recent – the pink ball.
The pink ball affair has been raging for weeks, months – what seems like since the start of time. Anyone who is anyone in Australian cricket has had their say. Will the shape hold, or its hardness? What about the colour? Thanks to Highway to Hell, the green surrounds of the truncated square should ensure maximum protection for the longevity of the pink ball.
In truth, leading up to this Test, a decider of sorts as Australia look to close the series 2-0 while New Zealand aim to salvage an honourable draw, the players have aired a certain amount of trepidation. On the eve of the big occasion, however with the pink ball now a certainty, the concerns have disappeared.
“We head into this Test match with a sense of excitement,” Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand Test captain, said ahead of the first day’s play.
Steve Smith, his Australian counterpart, was equally optimistic. “I think it is a really exciting concept. I can’t wait to get out and give it a crack. The ball has had a lot of work, and it is at a position now where it is going to hold up, particularly in these conditions out here at Adelaide Oval,” said Smith.
Following disappointing crowd turnouts in the two preceding Tests, both captains were also quick to praise the “Ashes-like” ticket sales that the introduction of the pink ball has brought.
“People are voting with their feet. They’re encouraged by what the pink-ball Test match has to offer,” said McCullum. “For us, to play in front of 40,000-odd people in a Test match is pretty amazing, so we’re really, really excited about it.”
McCullum’s view of the pink ball’s impact on Test cricket was consigned to being simply a “quirk of the game” which probably “just accentuates” the difficulty of batting early in an innings. “Australia have had more pink-ball work than what we have but, geez, does it really matter once you get under way?” wondered the Black Caps’ skipper.
Both Smith and McCullum did concede that, after two Tests where bat dominated ball with the average team innings totalling 338, the tables may turn in favour of the bowlers with the introduction of the pink ball. The last two ODIs between the Antipodean rivals saw them go against the grain of a World Cup where 300-plus scores were the norm. Neither team went past 200 when they placed each other as the likes of Mitchell Starc, Tim Southee and Trent Boult ruled the roost.
With New Zealand’s Martin Guptill having played an innings in their recent pink-ball warm-up match at “a tempo which is probably more akin to his one-day game”, the pink ball’s capacity to swing more for longer and an aggressive declaration by Smith in their own rose-tinted practice, this encounter between the two teams may be more reminiscent of their one-day battles. Tellingly, the unknown factor proved ever present as both captains refused to name a starting eleven twenty-four hours out from the start of play.
The Test will prove a memorable occasion too as the start of play falls on the first anniversary of the death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes, fatally felled by a bouncer in a domestic match last year. With Hughes’ family requesting that commemorations be kept small, McCullum conceded, “It’s not going to be an easy time for anyone involved. We’ll take the lead from the Aussie guys on it and be as respectful as we possibly can be.”
“We’re going to be doing our best to play with a smile on our face,” said Smith. “Hopefully [we’ll] play well for ‘Hughesy’. Obviously it’s a tough time for his family and his friends and we respect that. Hopefully we can have a good week for Phillip.”
The final Test, be it for the pink ball, the day/night aspect, the series result or this grim anniversary, will be keenly followed. “We’re creating history here,” said Smith. “I’m sure a lot of people will be watching from around the world, and that’s really exciting for world cricket.”