Some decades ago a redoubtable editor and publisher of a newspaper in his famous column ‘Caveat’ asked a rhetorical question, "What does Alimuddin Street think?" He was referring to the street in Kolkata that is the CPM party headquarters from where it ruled the State for three decades. Now the Writers’ Building, where the West Bengal Secretariat is situated, has been painted a pale blue and the Trinamul Congress that is in the saddle has ushered in more changes and added colour. The cricket ball, for instance, that is used for the Test match at Eden Gardens for the first time is no longer red, ‘the cherry’ as the commentators called it. It has turned pink and the tests have also been made day and night affairs.
To make it even more memorable, as India and Bangladesh played the maiden day/night Test with the pink ball, the main point of discussion was not about the comparative strengths and weaknesses of both teams, of the texture of the grass and turf and humidity, but the colour. The city had been painted pink, with pink lights and decorations and a 40-storey tower in the backdrop also illuminated in that colour. Army paratroopers flew into the stadium to hand over a pink ball each to the rival captains and pink coloured balloons soared over the sky.
Tickets for the 65,000-capacity stadium had all been sold out, gushed the newly installed President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India(BCCI), Saurav Ganguli, the city’s own native son who is affectionately called the 'Prince of Calcutta.' Along with him watching the opening ceremony was the distinguished guest from Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to watch her team play and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as also Bharat Ratna and Rajya Sabha member Sachin Tendulkar.
As invariably happens with cricket much homework had gone into this switch from red to pink balls and also from day to the hyphenated day/night matches. The lunch and tea breaks have to be taken into account as also the changes in light from noon to evening and the floodlights and the dew that settles in at nightfall. In the tropical countries the climatic variations have also to be reckoned with as also the visibility factor.
The red ball loses shine and colour, according to experts, and appears brown as the play progresses and this makes it difficult for the batsman to sight it in floodlights. Hence the pink ball, which has better visibility and loses colour and shape more slowly. With the players wearing coloured kits there was even a suggestion that the white ball be used that could last the mandatory 80 overs. But the pink ball scored because all the 11 Tests played with it so far had ended with a result. This is because the pink ball is supposed to swing a bit more.
Even within the short time it was introduced, three manufacturers have chipped in with their products, two of them made in England and the third in Australia. And the playing countries have their preference, with India opting for the SG ball of England and the West Indies and Ireland opting for Dukes again manufactured in England, and all other countries preferring the Kookaburra ball of Australia. The timings have also been suitably amended with play starting at 1 pm and ending at 8 pm with the first interval at 3 pm with a 40-minute break and a 20-minute tea break at 5.30 pm.
Much homework has also been done on the ball which will have six rows of stitches around the central seam and while SG and Duke are hand-stitched in Kookaburra hand-stitches are there for only two rows of the inner seam and the outer reams are machine-stitched. Kookaburra’s seams are supposed to flatten faster than the other two, but that is a minor quibble. Since all SG balls are hand-stitched the seam is bit more pronounced and keeping in view the dew the seam is also a bit prominent in the pink ball. And the extra lacquer gives it a bit more shine. No minor detail has been left to chance. These balls were imported for the Duleep Trophy for the first time in 2016 and the BCCI asked the players not take these as souvenirs after the match as they cost Rs.8,000 each. The SG ball however cost just Rs 2,700.
Though the International Cricket Council has approved of the D/N Tests as early as 2012 the first was played in 2015 at Adelaide and so far 11 tests have been played with Australia winning all the five Tests played at home. For statistics Sri Lanka had two wins out of the three played and England, South Africa and New Zealand winning one each. India has been the only country to have turned down offers to play a D/N match and the BCCI had stood firm on it till now. Till the change in that body and Ganguli took over.
So, Indian players have been slightly handicapped in adjusting to the new environment, though players like Cheteswar Pujara and Murali Vijay have played Duleep Trophy matches and are familiar with the format. Pujara feels that if you want the crowds to come and create an atmosphere, Test cricket would have to be played with the red ball. Once a while the pink ball might provide novelty but he feels that the BCCI would have to make the decision.
Initially even players like skipper Virat Kohi had misgivings and felt that the pink ball was like a ‘heavy hockey ball’ and could pose challenges while fielding. While fielding at the slips the ball hits so hard because of the extra glaze and even the throws to the wicket keeper needed a lot of effort. Catches during the day would also be difficult because with the while and red ball you have an idea when it would reach you, with the pink ones if you don’t look at it the palms are gone. Visibility at twilight and the extra glaze also pose challenges as well as the precise idea of the off stumps.
While history was being made in Kolkata, at Brisbane Australia and Pakistan were also playing a Test match in the conventional way. The stadium was not packed but one felt nostalgic at the green outfield and the players in flannels and the cherry.
In the fifties the legendary film director SS Vasan, who had made such classics as Avvayar and Chandralekha with its ‘drum dance’, wanted to make the biggest block-buster of all, called Insaniyat. He had two of the famous Hindi stars and the most popular heroine all flown from Bombay to Madras. He also had the celebrated monkey Zippy of Tarzan fame flown from Hollywood. Finally the movie was to be premiered in Calcutta. He had also brought half the theatres in that city and was all set to storm the Hindi film world. But Vasan had overlooked one small detail. That was also the time two other Hindi films were also released simultaneously, Raj Kapoor’s Shri 420 and Shantaram’s Janak Jhanak Payal Bhaje. These were huge successes and there were stampedes at the theatres. Vasan’s scouts came back every evening with the depressing news that Insaniyat was running to empty houses. They still hoped that word of mouth would do the trick. Then one evening one of the scouts came and gave another bit of information. He said he had noticed that the Bengali elite were discussing excitedly about some other movie that was running at an obscure hall. His curiosity aroused, Vasan went to that hall and saw that movie. That was Pather Panchali. He was so moved that he went to Ray’s house and congratulated him and said he would release the halls he had booked for his movie.
At Brisbane where the Pakistan lost the match some players were looking for an eating place where you could the desi food, they found an Indian taxi driver who took them to an Indian restaurant and refused to accept the fare. Touched by the gesture the players invited him to join them.
Small gestures, these have a way of catching the imagination and staying longer in the memory than the latest innovations and the dazzle of colour and the constant improvisations that are being foisted. As designers are fond of saying, they seem to develop ‘wrinkles’ faster.