Mitchell Starc looms as Australia’s big weapon with the all-new pink ball as Test cricket ventures into the unknown with the first ever day-night Test against New Zealand in Adelaide starting on Friday.
The performance of the ball, and the success of Test cricket under floodlights, will be closely watched in what could be a breakthrough in attracting more fans to the struggling five-day format.
Ticket sales have been promising, with a first-day crowd of up to 40,000 expected — compared with 16,000 the last time the two sides met in Adelaide in 2008. TV audiences should also be higher with play continuing until 9:00pm local time.
The first day-night match in 138 years of Tests is one of cricket’s rare innovations, and follows the advent of one-day internationals in the 1970s and the glitzy Twenty20 format in the last decade.
Tactics are expected to be dramatically affected with the new ball, coloured pink to help visibility, expected to swing freely during the night session — conditions which should bring Starc to the fore.
Starc, Australia’s premier paceman since Mitchell Johnson retired after the second Test in Perth, grabbed three wickets with lively swing in an evening session of a domestic Sheffield Shield match in Adelaide earlier this season.
Starc also bowled the fastest ever Test delivery of 160.4kilometres per hour (99.7 mph) during the drawn second Test, and he could be crucial as Australia look to seal the three-Test series.
‘Can’t see the seam’
‘It usually swings with the new ball and also under lights it tends to swing a little bit more,’ Australia spinner Nathan Lyon said of the pink ball.
‘I’m a big fan of bowling with the pink ball because they (batsmen) can’t see the seam so it’s going to be interesting times.’
Australia hold a 1-0 lead after winning by 208 runs in Brisbane, meaning the Kiwis can level the series if they win in Adelaide.
Black Caps coach Mike Hesson said both sides will be keen to bowl at night, something which will affect strategy including declarations.
‘There’s definitely something to that (declaring to bowl at night), if you think that’s the best chance to take a few early wickets,’ he said.
‘There’ll definitely be some tactical plays throughout the Test.’
Australia are contemplating playing two spinners with Stephen O’Keefe’s record in Adelaide bringing him into contention alongside Lyon.
O’Keefe has taken 18 wickets for New South Wales in three pink-ball Sheffield Shield games at the Adelaide Oval, and he has no doubt the third Test will produce a result.
‘In my opinion this is the best ground to play with the pink ball,’ O’Keefe said. ‘I think that is a result wicket out there, without a doubt.’
David Warner, who hit twin centuries in Brisbane and a maiden double-ton in Perth, believes a switch to the pink ball and a likely grassy Adelaide Oval pitch may tilt the balance to the bowlers.
‘The last two wickets have been very batter-friendly,’ Warner said. ‘It’s going to be a different story playing here and I think you’ll see the ball move around a bit off the wicket.’
Ground staff have had their work cut out after a rock concert by AC/DC at the Oval on Saturday, putting a drop-in pitch in place and replacing some 800 square metres (8,600 square feet) of outfield.
James Pattinson, who has struggled with injuries, is expected to play his first Test since March 2014, while Shaun Marsh has another chance to prove his worth at Test level as he replaces injured batsman Usman Khawaja.
New Zealand have Neil Wagner in line to replace Trent Boult if the key paceman succumbs to a back injury.
Australia: David Warner, Joe Burns, Steve Smith (capt), Shaun Marsh, Adam Voges, Mitch Marsh, Peter Nevill, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon, Steve O’Keefe, Peter Siddle.
New Zealand: Tom Latham, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum (capt), BJ Watling, Mark Craig, Doug Bracewell, Matt Henry, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner.
Umpires: Richard Illingworth (ENG), Sundaram Ravi (IND)
TV umpire: Nigel Llong (ENG)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (SRI)