Seeing pink and red.
Russell Degnan

The idea that will save test cricket, night cricket in whites, continues to infuriate administrators. Experiments to find a visible ball that won't fade with repeated misuse have tossed up a fluoro-pink ball that seems to bring a night test that little bit closer. This is no bad thing, and I have no particular problem with either concept. But I do wonder why, after almost two decades of trying the only approach that has been attempted is to change the colour of the ball.

One day cricket with a white ball has largely succeeded of course, but it hasn't been without difficulties. A ball is subject to some horrible treatment during a cricket match, scuffed against an abrasive rock hard surface more than five hundred times, repeatedly bashed with a piece of wood, rolled across dew covered green grass, and pounded into concrete and metal stands. Is it any wonder that the leather softens and discolours to a dull grey? The white ball has been problematic both because it turns a dull grey and difficult to see colour, and because, in order to prevent that, the lacquer has generally been thicker and more conducive to swing.

A red ball is subject to equally trying circumstances, but the red ball will only turn from a bright cherry red to a dull cherry red as it is beaten into submission. The problem with the red ball has been not its deterioration, but its lack of visibility at night. But it is worth noting the reasons why a red ball is invisible at night, and perhaps too, whether there might be a simpler technical solution than trying to create a coloured ball that acts like a ball should, without losing its colour and visibility under difficult conditions.

A simple discussion of light suffices to show why the red ball has a problem. At all cricket grounds, the light comes from above. It is neither as bright as the sun, providing substantially less ambient reflection, nor does it provide a blue background to silhouette the ball against. Moreover, the reflection that does occur, comes from reflections off green grass playing area, and is therefore mostly composed of green light. While the top of the ball is exceptionally well lit, making ground fielding no problem, the dark under-side of the ball is practically black.

A pink ball suffers from a similar problem. Like the red ball, most of the light reflecting from it is green, but the pink is such a reflective surface, that the light is sufficient to (hopefully) show a dull pink against the dark night sky. Even so, there are claims that the pink is insufficiently bright to be played with.

I wonder then, if there is an alternative. If the problem is light on the underside of the ball, then lighting the underside of a normal red ball, might be sufficient to make it visible - potentially, even more visible than a pink or white ball.

For the spectators and players sake, merely pointing lights into the sky is a bad idea. But the purpose here is not to light everything, only the ball, and only with enough ambient red light to make it visible. Red-filtered lights, shone into long reflective panels should be sufficient to light the bottom of the ball while, for spectators, reducing glare from across the ground to a minimum, and the glare for players to none (unless they are facing away from the pitch).

Would this solve the problem? Perhaps, it depends how expensive it is to install a temporary supplementary lighting system at each ground; how effective the reflected lighting is at making the ball visible; and whether the reflective patterns detract from the viewing experience of spectators. But it is worth considering, given that several decades of research have failed to produce a ball that will remain visible for 100 plus overs, and still plays as a ball should. Perhaps, the pink ball will succeed. Or perhaps not.

Idle Summers 13th April, 2010 21:46:52   [#] 


Seeing pink and red.
Superb post, Russell. It's been baffling me for months as to why everyone was so reluctant to play with the red cherry in day/night tests. Thanks for the clarification.

I suppose the initial costs of fixing the ambient red light you mention would be a tad expensive. However, since these are more-or-less permanent, I suppose that grounds will be able to recover the costs of these in the long-run.

Looking at the white ball, why can't these be used for D/N tests? Is it because they might swing too much under lights?
Thiru Cumaran  21st April, 2010 23:30:08  

Seeing pink and red.
Thiru, thanks for commenting.

The problem with the white ball is that it turns grey and hard to see once the sheen wears off, normally after 30-40 overs. Given a test match ball is supposed to last 80 this is a problem. Even in one-dayers it has been a problem, which is why they've tried: 1) to make the lacquer thicker, which made it swing a lot; 2) to have two balls, one at each end, which meant having a new ball for half the game; and 3) what they do now, which is force a shinier replacement after 34 overs. The worry with the pink ball is that it will have the same problem, but at least some of the trials seemed to go well.
Russ  29th April, 2010 15:55:01