Evolution of the Pink Cricket Ball
In exactly five months today (17 August) all eyes will be on Edgbaston when England face West Indies in the inaugural day/night Investec Test in England. The big question: Can floodlit Test cricket work in this country?
And pivotal to that question will be...the ball.
The Edgbaston Test will be played with a pink ball, as were the first two day/night Tests in Australia in November 2015 and 2016. After the second of those, a hitherto sceptical South Africa side was emphatically won over by the concept of day/night Test cricket. It worked, essentially because a ball has been developed which behaves consistently and remains acceptably visible throughout the changing conditions of a day of day/night cricket.
"We have developed a specific shade of pink which will remain consistent through an innings. The composition of that pigment is confidential, of course, but we are very happy with the results. Most importantly the players are very happy with it."
Pink balls have been in use in senior cricket for seven years. They were first used in international cricket in a Women's ODI between England and Australia at Wormsley in 2009 and then, the following year, for the first time in the traditional pre-season MCC v Champion County in Dubai.
Now comes the first men's Test in England to be played with a pink ball and its manufacturers, Dukes, could not have greater confidence in it.
When it comes to making cricket balls, Dukes have serious history - the company was formed in 1760. More than 250 years later they are at the cutting edge of developing balls to suit the fast-moving demands of domestic and international cricket.
Dilip Jajodia, managing director of Dukes, said: "Cricket has been transformed in the last 20 years and, as manufacturers, we have to respond to that. At Dukes we have responded with new advanced technology to produce long-lasting white and brightly-coloured balls for both limited overs matches and day/night Tests.
"We work hard to ensure the ball keeps its shape while retaining the right feel on the bat - and that means we apply different processes for balls used in different parts of the world. For example, a ball used on hard wickets in the Caribbean must be more resilient that one used in the softer pitches in England.
"In the past there has been a belief that there should be one type of ball for all cricket, but that makes no sense now that we have the technology to tailor balls to different conditions. We have that technology - which is deployed alongside traditional craftsmanship. Every Dukes ball is hand-stitched."
Former England wicketkeeper Bob Taylor, sales and marketing manager at Dukes since 1995, shares Jajodia's passion for getting the product right.
Of the balls to be used in this year's Edgbaston Test he said: "We have developed a specific shade of pink which will remain consistent through an innings. The composition of that pigment is confidential, of course, but we are very happy with the results. Most importantly the players are very happy with it.
"That shade of ball will be used in the Edgbaston Test and also in the round of day/night Specsavers County Championship matches in June. It's great that Warwickshire will be one of the home teams for those games because they have been at the forefront of day/night cricket from the start and their day/night 2nd XI Championship game against Worcestershire last August showed that it can work perfectly well in this country."
During that match a pink Dukes ball was used for two innings and a pink Kookaburra ball for two as part of a trial agreed following discussions with the ECB.
"That was a really important trial," said Mr Jajodia. "I was very impressed with the ECB's decision to bring the two products together so they could be assessed in exactly the same circumstances. The feedback we had was very pleasing. I am totally confident that the players will be happy with the ball in the day/night Test at Edgbaston and proud that Dukes will play our part in what will be a great, historic occasion in Birmingham.
Tickets - Day/Night Investec Test Match
England's inaugural Day/Night Investec Test match against West Indies gets underway at Edgbaston on Thursday 17 August.
Please note that tickets for the Friday and Saturday and extremely limited, so book now to avoid disappointment.