As a lover of cricket and history, the chance to witness the first-ever day-night Test match was something I was bound to accept. The match was against New Zealand and the place the lovely Adelaide Oval. The opportunity came via a charity auction at my kids’ school and the prize was a day – and night – in the Channel Nine corporate box, watching Starc and Hazelwood taunt the Black Caps with a pink ball.
It was a late-breaking invitation so a day of leave was sought and flights and accommodation booked online. I’m a seasoned user of the World Wide Web but, somehow, I managed to screw up the hotel and, in fact, booked two beds in an Adelaide backpacker’s dormitory. A women’s dormitory. Great fun at 20, downright dangerous at 50. The problem was fixed and an early flight taken from Sydney on the morning of the Test. Like lots of people, I enjoy beer but generally not at 7.15am and certainly not cans of warm Peroni. The only choice on board was tepid lager and, as our flight was jammed with middle-aged men intent on fun, that’s what we felt compelled to consume.
Day-night games are nothing new, but five-day evening tests are and that meant a change to the ball colour. But why pink? Ball-maker Kookaburra says it’s all about having a six-stitcher that satisfies visibility under lights and can be picked up against the players’ creams. Apart from colour, the red and pink balls are much the same except for an extra layer of pink colour before the final clear lacquer finish. This enhances brightness and, some say, early swing. The pink ball idea was not without controversy. Early practice games here and abroad had raised questions about its visibility at twilight, its movement and buffability. On the day however, the pink ball’s physics did nothing to deter fans who were lining up several hours before a single ball was bowlled.
The Adelaide Oval was always a pretty little ground with lousy facilities. A $535 million redevelopment over the past six years fixed that, delivering a new stadium of 50,000+ capacity while retaining the public hill, the manual scoreboard and the very short square boundaries. It seems South Australians love their sports administrators as well as their sportsmen with a combination of nine having the new stands named in their honour, including ones tagged Wanganeen, Oatey, Williamson, Riccutto, Chappell and Bradman.
The ground was established in 1871 after the formation of South Australian Cricket Association and the initial first-class game took place six years later between South Australia and Tasmania. The ground’s first Test was in December 1884 where England beat Australia by eight wickets (the 6th venue in the world to host a Test match). Ricky Ponting is the ground’s highest Test run-scorer (1794), Shane Warne has its most Test wickets (56), Michael Clarke most Test centuries (7) and Sir Donald Bradman its highest Test score (299).
Of course, this Test opened with national anthems but this time ‘Advance Australia Fair’ was quite different as the performer was Adelaide-born Greta Bradman, granddaughter of Sir Don and an opera singer in her own right. Greta’s was the finest rendition of the national anthem I have heard and a magnificent advertisement for operatic endeavour. While a relatively new soprano, Greta is a multi-award winner and last year made her operatic recording debut with the great Richard Bonynge conducting the English Chamber Orchestra with a piece called My Hero.
Like all corporate boxes, Channel Nine’s is a fine place, located close to the commentary box and filled, as you would expect, with cold beer and business types. One guest who stood out was John ‘Strop’ Cornell, the second half of Paul Hogan’s 1970s television comedy act. For those growing up in Australia 40 years ago, Strop was an understated celebrity, famous for his lifesaving cap and homemade hangover cures. But his more important cultural contribution was the linchpin role in convincing Kerry Packer to set up World Series Cricket, several anecdotes on which he retold during the dinner break. Still married to TV model Delvene Delaney, Strop is now in his mid 70s and while he has been on the wrong end of Parkinson’s Disease, he is a keen cricket fan and was happy to chat about the game.
One issue discussed was the brave selection in the Australian side of Shaun Marsh who we agreed had had more than his share of chances and, after a poor Ashes tour last year, (one Test with innings of zero and two), was picked after injury to Usman Khawaja. Marsh is West Australian cricket royalty; his younger brother is Test all-rounder Mitch and, more tellingly, his dad is former Test opener (and ex national coach and selector) Geoff Marsh. Shaun’s international form had been patchy: up until that game, he had played 28 Tests innings and scored four or less 12 times, including seven ducks. In this game his performance improved only slightly, being run out for two and then a second-innings 49.
And the pink ball? It was wondrous for the 47,000 that turned up on the first day (more than the entire Perth test). There were no player complaints and overall the match was hard fought, but no repeat of the red-ball run-fest in Perth where Warner scored 253 and Kiwi Ross Taylor 290. Australia went on to win the pink-ball encounter and the Trans-Tasman series. The one downside was Mitchell Johnson’s retirement. But that decision, I’m sure, had nothing to do with the colour of the ball.