Back in 2009, the MCC World Cricket Committee discussed its concerns about the future of Test cricket. “Except for certain icon series, such as the Ashes, Test cricket throughout the world, and in particular the lower-ranked nations, is in very real danger of dying,” the committee said in a blunt statement. It went on to recommend that day-night Test cricket be trialled as a means of keeping the game alive. After six years and countless tweaks to the pink ball, that recommendation is about to come to fruition. One of the sport’s oldest venues, Adelaide Oval, will play host to the newest concept in Test cricket. For the first time in 138 years, a Test match will be played with a ball that is not red. For the first time in 138 years, a Test match will be played at night.
It is a significant moment in the history of Test cricket but it also represents a continuation of the evolution of the game. The first Test match was timeless, with four-ball overs and a red ball; Test No.2188 will has a five-day limit, six-ball overs and a pink ball. One of the key mysteries is how the pink ball will perform. Will it swing, and for how long? Will it seam? Will it discolour too quickly? Will the players be able to see it properly in the evening? And will the spectators? Whatever the case, trials at Sheffield Shield level have satisfied Cricket Australia that the Kookaburra pink ball is sound enough to be used in a Test match. There have also been concerted efforts from administrators and groundstaff to ensure a non-abrasive Adelaide Oval pitch to preserve the ball as well as possible.
The change has been made largely for fans, so they can watch on TV in prime time or head to the ground after work to catch the second half of the day’s action. But it is the players who must deal with the subtle differences in how the ball will move, and how visible it may be. And the players from Australia and New Zealand do so in this Test with a series on the line. Australia have already done enough to retain the Trans-Tasman Trophy by taking a 1-0 lead after two matches, but New Zealand could yet escape with a second consecutive drawn series in Australia if they win in Adelaide.
And as well as being the start of a new era for Test cricket, it is also the dawning of Australia’s post-Johnson period, with Mitchell Johnson’s retirement after the Perth Test altering the look of their attack. His departure also completed a series of retirements during 2015 with Michael Clarke, Ryan Harris, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and Chris Rogers also having ended their Test careers. Now in the space of five months they have lost 523 Test wickets and 20,323 Test runs of experience. The times they are a changing.
Australia: DWWLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: DLWLW
In the spotlight
Mitchell Starc has in the past spoken of his dislike of the pink ball, but his record with it suggests he ought to change his tune. In his only two pink-ball day-night Sheffield Shield games, Starc has collected 15 wickets at 13.80, and notably both of those matches were at Adelaide Oval. The retirement of Mitchell Johnson has left Starc as the clear spearhead of the attack and if his record is any indication, he may begin the post-Johnson era by strengthening that claim even further.
With scores of 23, 23, 1 and 17 so far in the Test series, Martin Guptill needs to provide New Zealand with something more. And maybe this is his opportunity. His only two fifty-plus scores of the tour have come in the practice matches in which the pink ball was used. Against the Prime Minister’s XI in Canberra last month he scored 94 and against the Western Australia XI in Perth he managed 103 before retiring to allow others a chance. Guptill is renowned as a dangerous one-day striker and perhaps the pink ball, which some observers say is more similar to the white ball than it is to the red, might suit him.
Australia must make at least two changes due to the retirement of Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja’s hamstring injury. Shaun Marsh comes in for Khawaja, with Steven Smith likely to move up to No.3, and Peter Siddle is the probable replacement for Johnson, having been 12th man in the first two Tests. James Pattinson would likely only get a look-in if the selectors were worried about Josh Hazlewood’s workload. Steve O’Keefe has been released from the squad to play in the Sheffield Shield despite his remarkable record with the pink ball – 18 wickets at 18.22 from three day-night Shield games.
Australia (possible) 1 Joe Burns, 2 David Warner, 3 Steven Smith (capt), 4 Adam Voges, 5 Shaun Marsh, 6 Mitchell Marsh, 7 Peter Nevill (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Peter Siddle, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Nathan Lyon
An unchanged New Zealand XI had appeared likely until captain Brendon McCullum hinted at the pre-match press conference that there could be changes. Neil Wagner took five wickets and Mitchell Santner four in the practice match in Perth – where admittedly 13 wickets were taken due to the playing conditions – and might be a chance of playing. Trent Boult bowled without apparent discomfort at training on Wednesday and is expected to play, having struggled with back soreness following the Perth Test.
New Zealand (possible) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Tom Latham, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Brendon McCullum (capt), 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Mitchell Santner/Mark Craig, 8 Doug Bracewell, 9 Matt Henry/Neil Wagner, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Trent Boult
Pitch and conditions
More grass than usual has been left on the Adelaide Oval pitch in an effort to help prevent rapid deterioration of the pink ball, and that may also mean the ball seams and spins. The lack of abrasiveness will also likely make it hard to extract reverse swing. The forecast for the match is for warm weather and possible rain towards the end of the game.
Stats and trivia
Starc’s record with the pink ball is outstanding but so is that of Josh Hazlewood, who in two day-night Shield games has taken nine wickets at 15.44
The pink-ball records of Australia’s batsmen vary greatly: the extremes are Steven Smith with an average of 219 from two innings and Joe Burns, who has an average of 9.00 from six innings
The second Test in Perth was the fourth-highest scoring Test match of the 400 that have been played in Australia
“It’s a great concept, I think the crowds have rolled in … it’s really exciting for us moving forward. I’m sure a lot of people are going to be watching around the world.”
Steven Smith on the idea of day-night Test cricket
” We head into this Test match with a sense of excitement, not just about the pink ball and the occasion but also the fact that we have got an opportunity to try and draw the series and protect what is a record we are pretty proud of over the last little while.”
Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand captain
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale