The pink Kookaburra cricket ball was as much of a novelty as the very first day/night Test match that it was used in, back in November 2015.
Adelaide was the chosen venue, with Australia vs New Zealand being the contest. When Mitchell Starc steamed in and bowled the first ball to Martin Guptill at the other end of the pitch, history was made. It was the first time an international cricket match had seen the use of a pink ball.
Cricket bats have seen multiple innovations and improvements, which may skew the odds heavily in favour of the batsman — depending on the format of the game being played. But as the humble red cherry sought to get a makeover for purposes entirely practical (the red ball was difficult for players to spot under lights at night), it prompted a conversation like hardly any innovation in cricket had before. Some said the pink ball deteriorated too soon, while some said it swung too much.
The pink ball has perhaps been the most tested ball in the history of the game — nine years, to be precise. After a pink Kookaburra ball was used in a charity match in 2006, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) — the club recognised as the custodian of the Laws of Cricket — issued a request for manufacturers to develop a ball that could be used for day/night matches.
What Kookaburra has to say
Shannon Gill, Kookaburra’s media representative, explained that the Australian company took up the challenge immediately.
“Yes, the pink ball went through extensive testing before it got to first-class and Test level. Back in 2006, the MCC put the challenge out to ball manufacturers to produce a pink ball to be used in day/night first-class cricket, and to be fair Kookaburra were the ones that took it most seriously,” says Gill.
“Over the course of the next nine years, more than 16 different shades of pink were used for production before we settled on the one that was used in the first Test between Australia and New Zealand.”
But despite finding the colour that worked in the first match, Kookaburra has continued to innovate on the exact shade that delivers best results.
“That shade of pink [used in the first match in 2015] has evolved ever since, all designed to enhance visibility. Testing goes on with every ball though, not just the pink one. Every batch of leather that’s used for international cricket is subject to tensile testing, fat level testing and other procedures to ensure we get the right leather being used. We think a systematic testing procedure is essential for consistency in ball-making.”
In fact, perhaps the only difference between the red ball and the pink ball is that a very fine layer of extra colour and paint is added to the latter at the end of the manufacturing process to bring out the bright pink hues needed to improve visibility under floodlights.
The process of settling upon pink as a colour for the ball was one of trial and error. Yellow and fluorescent orange were initially floated as colours. However, live broadcast of cricket for television viewers was not possible with yellow and orange. Cameramen said they were jarring to the eye and difficult to pick up.
So, nine years and 16 shades of pink later, Kookaburra finally had its colour, ready to be introduced on the international stage in the 2015 Test between Australia and New Zealand.
But this was just the beginning.
The colour of the seam was an entirely different question altogether. Gill shed some light on it.
“Players have been extremely helpful all the way through, and generally the Australian players that have been using it the longest are in agreement on the fact that the ball has improved markedly since the first iterations that they tested.”
The main question was around the ball’s green outer seam. The red ball has a white outer seam and a white inner seam. The white ball has a green outer seam and white inner seam. This colour combination of the seams of the white ball had been used for the pink ball initially.
How feedback shaped the ball
“Player feedback suggested that the green outer seam and white closing seam (as used on the white ball) was harder to pick up on the pink ball. They said it didn’t replicate the contrast in colours like a white seam does on a traditional red ball. So we changed and tested a black seam that we hypothesised would provide a similar type of contrast. The feedback was immediately good, and since then we haven’t had too many complaints about seam visibility.”
Unlike cricket bats, there is far less room to experiment as far as innovations to the cricket ball are concerned. But with the pink ball designed to last 80 overs in a day, it would only be logical to push the envelope further and discover what improvements could be made to the ball.
Gill sums it up perfectly. “Generally, we monitor the game and try to evolve the ball with the way the game [evolves]. Our innovations of the white ball (Kookaburra first developed the white ball for use with coloured clothing for World Series Cricket in 1977) and the pink ball are great examples of that," he says.
“It’s something we look at but are loathe to make significant changes to unless ordered by the authorities. This does not mean we won’t be looking at things in the future, and we have indeed made tweaks to the production process to create a stronger ball in recent times. If we see needs we’ll use our research and development expertise to trial innovations and make suggestions, some of these have never got to an international cricket field but who knows what the future holds?”