The most anticipated contest of the year is all set to kick off at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday (December 17) where the defending Border-Gavaskar Trophy champions, India, will be up against the No.1 ranked ICC Test team, Australia, in a day-night Test for the opener. The Pink ball Test, though still a fresh concept among the majority of the Test-playing nations across the globe, has been around for five years to be precise with its inception at the very same Adelaide Oval. And the Aussies have mastered the shiny pink, having won all the seven day-night matches played on home soil. India, barring last week’s first-class game, only made their debut in this format of Test cricket in November 2019 at home, comfortably beating Bangladesh, but now have a far bigger challenge to overcome when they face Tim Paine’s men on Thursday.
Ahead of the opener, we take a look at how different pink-ball Tests are in Australia.
In 22 day Test matches played in Australia since 2015, the year of the inception of the pink-ball Test, the batting average has been 37.56 which drops to 28.04 under the lights. This significant drop in number is primarily due to the limited period when the batting period can truly dominate in a single day. Although the sample size is small, from what it seems, batting is easiest in the second session of a day with the average runs per wicket being 35.57 which is a significant increase from the first session (28.06) and takes a nosedive under the lights (25.74).
In Adelaide, where four day-night Tests have been played so far, the batting average in the middle session is better (38.47) and remains similar to the overall numbers in the other two sessions. The last time a red-ball Test was played at the Adelaide, against India in 2015, the batting average across sessions were 24.85, 23.25, and 29.27 respectively. According to ESPNCricinfo, the corresponding overall numbers in Adelaide for day Tests are 35.93, 53.52, and 37.08 respectively.
The primary reason behind batsmen’s struggle under the lights has been due to the pace of the ball as observed by India’s Test deputy Ajinkya Rahane from the two pink ball experiences he has had.
“The pace of the red ball stays the same throughout the day,” Rahane said. “With the pink ball, the pace changes completely in those 40-50 minutes. Of course, the new ball moves a little for a while but it gets easy to bat after that. Then the twilight period can be challenging because the pace of the ball increases. Both off the wicket and in the air. If we focus hard during this period, it can get slightly easy again.
“It behaves differently during the day and behaves differently once the lights are on. So that is a challenge. So as a batsman focus will be the key. As long as you can focus and concentrate, communication will be the key among the two batsmen. Batting in the twilight, those 40-50 minutes is the key. If you bat well in that period, it becomes really good.”
Pacers have fared far better than spinners with the pink ball pon Australian soil, their average and strike rate being better under the lights while spinners have registered far worse numbers in day-night matches. According to CricViz, batters have managed roughly 22 runs per wicket against seamers in the final session and 24 runs per wicket against the new ball.
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However, there have been instances of batting heroics with 11 centuries scored to date in seven day-night matches in Australia, two of which are triple centuries and one was a double ton. Last Australian summer, David Warner stood almost on the verge of breaking Brian Lara’s Test record, against Pakistan.
Seven of these 11 tons have however been scored are by the Aussies, who have managed to master the art of batting in each of the sessions in day-night matches while visitors have immensely struggled, managing an average of 21.78 runs per wicket in these matches.
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Besides batting, Australia have another huge weapon that has increasingly worked in their favour while for visiting teams the ploy has failed to work. Visiting spinners have struggled immensely in day-night matches Down Under, picking a combined 13 wickets in 23 innings at an average of 95.38 and strike rate of 150.6. In Adelaide, the corresponding numbers are six wickets in 14 innings at an average of 119.83 and wicket every 167 deliveries. Nathan Lyon has however averaged 25.96 in all those seven games with a decent strike rate of 55.4. Lyon’s success comes from Mitchell Starc’s heavy boots who has played all the seven pink ball games in Australia. The offie has picked 26 wickets at 23.44 with a strike rate of 52.3 balls in his four Adelaide, far better than his career average of 31.58 and strike rate of 62.9.