England selection conundrum amid pink ball uncertainty

Time & Us
Last Updated: August 16, 2017 at 2:37 am

An undercooked England side will go into their first day-night Test almost as pink as the ball in these conditions.

While West Indies have already played a day-night Test – and had a warm-up match under lights on this tour – several of this England squad will be learning on their feet when this match starts. And with three day-night Tests in England’s schedule over the next few months (subject to confirmation from Auckland), they will need to learn fast.

None of that is to suggest the initiative is a mistake. It has, in some ways, already proved itself a success with around 70,000 tickets sold over the first three days of the match. Had the novelty factor not been there, this match, against a side shorn of many of its best-known names, could have proved a desperately tough sell. In attracting a new audience to Test cricket – Warwickshire reckon more than a third of these ticket sales are to those who have not bought Test tickets previously – and allowing more people to watch the TV coverage after work, the authorities are to be congratulated on their attempt to keep the game relevant.

But there are doubts. There are doubts over how comfortable it will be for people to sit outside in England in the final session, there are doubts over the durability of the pink ball and there are doubts over England’s readiness to use it.

In a perfect world, England would have had more time to prepare for their first pink ball Test. While all players were made available for the round of County Championship lights played under these conditions at the end of June, many of those games were ruined by rain. So Jonny Bairstow, Tom Westley, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad and Mason Crane either didn’t bat or didn’t play at all, while Joe Root (who faced 13 balls) and Ben Stokes (who was dismissed for a duck) had limited opportunity to benefit from the experience.

James Anderson, meanwhile, delivered 32 overs in Lancashire’s first innings against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. But even the man who might be England’s greatest swing bowler couldn’t persuade the old pink ball to move once it was 20 overs old. Perhaps, when twilight fell, there was a hint more assistance for the bowlers – or more trouble for the batsmen, anyway – but the evidence so far suggests the pink ball goes softer quicker than a red ball, is hard to buff and shine and, after those first few overs, won’t swing, conventionally, at least.