As Per The Sources, Eden Gardens has hosted a World Cup final, iconic Tests and IPL games for nine seasons. This April, the ground was host to a thrilling World T20 final. On June 18, the venue will be dressed up to host India’s first ever pink-ball match, a Super League final between two prominent teams in Kolkata – Mohun Bagan and Bhowanipore.
Generally, cricket in India is played with the SG ball, and in the only floodlit Test so far – between Australia and New Zealand in 2015 – a pink Kookaburra was used. However, PTI has learnt that Sourav Ganguly, former India captain and the chairman of the BCCI technical committee, suggested exploring all options.
“Sourav feels that the Kookaburra seam could be a problem in Indian conditions,” a BCCI office bearer said. “He suggested that we should also check out with Duke company, if they can manufacture pink balls with pronounced seam. We are expecting a consignment from Dukes.
“We are still deliberating on a lot of issues. The conditions, the ball used and its longevity. Also whether it is fair to have only one Test with pink ball and other two with red ball. Whether it will be fair on the two teams.”
It’s an ambitious venture, given the monsoons arrived just a week ago, and the forecast is for thundershowers during the game. But Ganguly doesn’t deal with ifs; he didn’t tread that path during his time as India captain, and sees this new experiment as an opportunity to market day-night Test cricket.
“Let’s start something,” Ganguly said at a panel discussion on pink ball cricket that was attended by his former India team-mate VVS Laxman and former Australia batsman Dean Jones. “Our problem is that we jump to too many conclusions before starting something. Let us go through it. Let us see the problems. Let us try and address them. And hopefully in six months’ time, we’ll fix it.”
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Six other Full Members have already experimented with the pink ball – India aside, only New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe are yet to play any pink-ball cricket locally. And given India are scheduled to play 13 Tests at home between October and March, it’s no surprise that Ganguly is keen on looking into the new format.
“Pink ball, to me, is the way forward,” he said. “Firstly, with common sense, it gets people to the ground after work. You finish work at 5pm and then you come in the evening, spend a few hours, watch cricket and go back. Test match cricket is also played at a faster pace than what it used to be. You have got to market it.
“You have got to find a way to bring people into the ground. Everything in life needs innovation. This [day-night Test cricket] is here to stay. It has got to be told to the people, like we sell IPL, like we sell T20 cricket, like we sell one-day cricket – that come have fun and go. Test cricket has to go that way.”
Luckily, Ganguly does not need to do the hard sell with the players from Mohun Bagan and Bhowanipore. Players and coaches from both sides are excited to be part of the historic experiment.
At their first training session, on June 15, all the Mohun Bagan players had a unique request for their coach Palash Nandy: they didn’t want to bat or bowl, they just wanted to hold the pink ball. Around five pink balls were procured from ball manufacturer Stanford – though the game will be played with pink Kookaburras – to let the players get acquainted with the colour. “No one wanted to bat or bowl, everyone wanted to see how it looked, how it felt in their hands,” Subhomoy Das, the Mohun Bagan captain, said.
Bhowanipore will go into the match on the back of just one training session with the pink ball. That didn’t seem to concern their coach Abdul Monayem, who expects the prevailing overcast conditions to benefit his bowling attack. “It is definitely a challenge. But we will try to stand strong through the four days,” Monayem said. “It will swing mostly and in the first 15-20 overs, it will be very difficult possibly for the batsmen. But I expect the gloss on the ball to wear off later and bring the spinners into the picture.”
The thrill of doing something new has clearly kept the doubts at bay. There are questions Das and other players have, but it is not something they are losing sleep over. “It will be challenging. How will it feel in the hands, how will it behave under lights, will easy or difficult it will be to sight the ball. These are a few things we are worried about,” Das said. In his first training session with the pink ball, Das, a one-time Bengal batsman, observed that it “swung a little more”.
Sourav Mondal, who will share the new ball for Mohun Bagan with India fast bowler Mohammed Shami, was hungry to figure out how the ball would behave once it became a little old. Unfortunately, both teams could not train for long enough to find out; a drizzle forced them to retreat to the dressing room after the CAB had provided them with three pink Kookaburra balls each on the match eve. “I could only bowl six or seven balls. What I felt it was the much similar to the white Kookaburra,” Mondal said. “The ball was seaming and swinging. With the moisture in the wicket, this will continue to happen until the wicket gets drier.”
Mondal reckoned unlike the red SG Test ball, which tends to get softer soon, the pink ball will stay hard and the lacquer will hold for longer. But, he felt, the pink ball will not get enough movement once it got old – around the 30-over mark. “The seam is not prominent on the pink Kookaburra compared to the white ball,” he said. “But it is very bright and the coating is much more than a white Kokabburra.”
Sujan Mukhherjee, the curator at Eden Gardens, remains unperturbed by the excitement around him. “It will be the same white dress. It will be the same white sight screen. Only the ball is pink,” Mukherjee, who has left a “see-through” grass covering on the pitch, said. “I am preparing the wicket the same way as I would for a day-night ODI.”
Ganguly, who was part of a similar experiment when he led an MCC side in Dubai five years ago, seems to have clearly done his homework ahead of the game – even if the time frame was tight. In addition to writing to Kookaburra in Australia to gets the pink balls delivered, a couple of weeks ago Ganguly wrote to John Stephenson at the MCC to ascertain the key things that needed to be in place to host the match. “The first thing John said is, ‘Please get the conditions right: you have got to leave a bit of grass on the surface and make sure pitches on either side has bit more grass on them as well,'” Ganguly said.
A general concern surrounding day-night games in the subcontinent has been the dew factor. Ganguly said he expected this to be an obstacle only in the winter months. “I don’t think there is going to be dew now. It is fairly hot. We will go through it easily. I don’t see any problem – if the white ball can be played under the lights, then pink ball, too, can be played.”
The biggest challenge for Ganguly and the CAB will be to see whether the fans will turn up for the Super League final. The game received a massive fillip when it was announced that it will be broadcast live. Will that affect ground attendances, though? Ganguly does not think so: “I am sure when we get that pink ball on the park there will be a bit of problems. But I see it as a success because it will get fans into the ground.”