Australia v New Zealand: Colour-deficient, but not blind to possibilities of night Tests

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Colour-deficient: Victorian captain Matthew Wade tries to focus on the pink ball Photo: Pat Scala
Colour-deficient: Victorian captain Matthew Wade tries to focus on the pink ball Photo: Pat Scala

The first – and, it turned out, only – time I played against the pink ball, I did not hesitate for a second to say yes to it.

It was March 2011. I’d just joined Middlesex and was asked to begin my stint at Lord’s by captaining a Marylebone Cricket Club team featuring the great Rahul Dravid in Abu Dhabi, against Nottinghamshire. Dravid was enough to guarantee I’d say yes, although the chance to stay in a seven-star hotel sweetened the deal.

As someone who is colour-deficient (I’ve learnt to stop saying colour blind) I knew the pink ball would not be ideal. It’s not a colour I tend to pick up that well. If I see someone wearing a pink shirt I’ll remember the next day what was on the shirt but won’t be able to describe its colour. It feels as if there’s a loose connection in your brain.

The moment I realised just how much of problem the pink ball would be for me came when I was in the nets facing Mohammad Nabi, who earlier this year was in the World Cup as captain of Afghanistan. We trained at dusk. Nabi was bowling his off-spin to me and I just could not see it. I was just way too early on it and I kept chipping the ball about two or three metres up in the air and having it landing a metre in front of me. I was just completely misreading it. It was bizarre.

I was even worse in the match. I won the toss and was out in the second over. In the second I got to 18 but fell to a tall Notts paceman named Luke Fletcher, whose release point was about level with the top of the sight screen. He bowled me a full toss and I simply did not see it. It hit me on the shin in front of middle stump.

My problem was twofold. Not only did the pink ball blend in against the purple seats just above the sight screen, but with the sight screen itself. They used a black sight screen, like for one-dayers, because they thought it would give the most contrast. Not for me.

Most people see the pink ball as a light colour, but I later found out that colour-deficient people see the pink ball – I hope I’ve explained this correctly – as a dark colour. That’s when the administrators realised they couldn’t use a black sight screen, because for colour-deficient people it’d just be a dark ball on a dark sight screen.

Despite all that I captained the MCC to a win, even though we only made 218 batting first in the four-dayer. It was all a matter of timing. Sure, Dravid’s century played a big role, but the bigger one was being able to bowl with a new ball in the final session on day one.

We blew them away. By stumps Notts were reeling and 8-68 and never recovered. We’d just got to bowl at them at just the perfect time, and it changed the game.

After that match I had a clear feeling that it was the start of something. The ball was far from perfect, but when you see a big push for it among the top brass like there was then – and still is now – you expect something will come of it. I thought there was enough support for it that it would end up pretty relevant in the future of the game. It’s only taken about 4½ years to progress to this: the first day-night Test.

As someone reputed to be a red-ball specialist, I’m probably more receptive to day-night Test than you would expect. Most of my career has been played in Australia and England, where Tests are still strong, but away from that we’ve seen a bit of a decline.

This is one of the things that might be able to help it and we’d be silly not to explore this avenue, given what Twenty20 has become in terms of attracting crowds. A decade or so ago there’s no way you would’ve thought T20 would have exploded to where it is now, especially given the BBL started as a state-versus-state competition. In another five or 10 years we might be saying the same about the pink-ball Test. I reckon it’s definitely part of the future of Test cricket.

The pink ball has improved a lot since the match I played. My bat sponsor, Kookaburra, makes the balls and has taken me through all the work that has gone into developing it. Nevertheless we still sometimes see big spells under lights like we managed in Abu Dhabi. I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw curious declarations, to get the other team batting at a particular time. Those sort of tactics are going to come into a pink-ball game a lot more than a red-ball game, because of the lighting situation.

If we again see a clump of wickets at night I hope we don’t automatically say it’s the fault of the pink ball and that we can’t do it again in a Test. It’d be a shame if people were making flat judgments on it based on a sample size of one match.

If Mitch Starc dominates with the new ball, like he did under lights against South Australia last month, it could be mostly due to his amazing form, with balls of any colour. We’re going to have to see what unfolds and judge afterwards. If there are problems, with the ball or the rules, I’d hope we look to improvements rather than just give up.

Even though I prided myself on my average throughout my career I’m not overly concerned about the impact of day-night Test innings on players’ career totals. My lingering concern is the effect it could have on careers.

When I signed up to play professional cricket there was no such thing as the pink ball. For that to come into it and affect your chances of selection is an interesting dynamic in this whole argument. I reckon the pink balls affects some guys more than others: principally, players who are colour-deficient.

I feel for Matthew Wade, my now-former teammate at Victoria. He is already having to cope with the day-night rounds of the shield. If the trial, at shield and Test level, goes beyond this year it could affect his chances of selection down the track. If it does, how is that fair?

hat if, through injury or form or whatever, Peter Nevill isn’t there at the start of next summer and Wade is there instead. He starts the summer well but then comes to another day-night Test. Do you give him a chance or will the selectors reckon it’s too much of a risk and go for someone else who can see the pink ball without hindrance?

That is the one thing I’m still a bit uncertain about, the potential for it to affect selection for a colour-deficient player which, down the track, would affect their earnings and also their recognition as a player.

Cricket Australia confirmed the day-night Test match when I was in England for the Ashes, but I can assure you it played no part in my decision to retire before this summer. It was just the right time to go. Hypothetically, had I kept going, it would have been an issue with me, facing the pink ball, and I’m not sure I would have been comfortable playing.

That said, I’ve spoken Wadey and he’s played in a few of these games and while it hasn’t been easy for him he’s battled his way through. Maybe that would’ve been what I had to do as well. Fortunately it’s something I’ll never have to worry about. I’ll be much more comfortable watching from the other side of the fence.