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'Our fast bowlers are now the best in the world'

November 26, 2019 09:09 IST

'The way they are playing, the bowlers we have, this is the best team in the world and I see them winning the World Test Championship.'

India's pacers Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav took 19 wickets in the Kolkata day-night Test. Photograph: BCCI

IMAGE: India's pacers Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav took 19 wickets in the Kolkata day-night Test. Photograph: BCCI
 

Indian cricket witnessed a new dawn at Eden Gardens last week!

India played its first day-night Test with the pink ball against Bangladesh in Kolkata and eased to victory by an innings and 46 runs.

Superstar Virat Kohli took the backseat despite hitting a superb century as the shining bright pink ball hogged all the limelight.

For cricket fans, it was the rare chance to be part of something historic. They thronged in numbers to catch a glimpse of the action at the Eden Gardens, more than 50,000 turning up on all three days, as the pink ball's debut in India proved a big hit.

BCCI President Sourav Ganguly was a pleased man at the end, and even though the match lasted a little more than two days, he opened another avenue to bring the fans back to Test cricket.

For Sanspareils Greelands (SG), it was just reward for all the hard work it put in to produce pink Tests balls in time for the match despite being given just 15 days notice.

SG's Marketing Director Paras Anand could not hide his excitement on the pink ball's successful debut. "The one big challenge with the pink ball is the colour," Anand tells Rediff.com's Harish Kotian.

IMAGE: The second Test against Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata was India's first day-night Test with a pink ball. Photograph: BCCI

This was the first time India played a pink ball Test. This was the first Test match for SG too with a pink ball. Are you happy with how the match went off?

I am obviously very happy because there was a lot of pressure.

The entire focus was on the ball because as everyone knows it was called the 'Pink Ball Test' instead of a day-night Test or any other name. And it was the Pink SG ball. So we very excited about it too.

The result was very good because the bowlers did well, the batters were able to score even under lights.

We saw how effective the Indian fast bowlers were. There was a stage when we were feeling pity for the Bangladesh batsmen because the Indian fast bowlers were so good and generating so much pace.

Overall, it was very positive and I am very happy.

You hardly had time to get the SG pink Test ball ready. How did you get the SG pink balls ready for match action in such a short span of time?

We had people who were involved in sourcing, making sure that all inputs were available on time because we just had two weeks to deliver.

We sent an initial sample and we got the feedback which we showed some BCCI officials. Then we had to tweak that also. All the balls were play tested every day. We were producing whatever we were told.

There was a brief that the seam had to be pronounced like the red ball. The hardness should be there because there was talk of the ball going soft in the past.

The company was on overdrive; we had people who were working for 20 hours a day non-stop. Trials were happening and changes were being made. At the factory, there was a time we were working till 10 in the night.

We put in a lot of effort; it was great team work and the result is there for everyone to see. The people are happy, the BCCI is happy, the players are happy, the bowlers are happy.

Even though they used it for the first time, our bowling coach Bharat Arun did mention after the match, although the three Indian fast bowlers (Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav) were playing for the first time with the SG Pink Ball, they adapted very well to the pink ball.

IMAGE: Fans at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Photograph: BCCI

It looks like the pink ball has brought Test cricket back to life in India. More than 50,000 people turned up daily at the Eden Gardens to watch the match.

Dada (Sourav Ganguly) mentioned that the pink ball Test will not only happen in Kolkata, we will take it to Ahmedabad where they are building a massive stadium and other big centres also, which is very good.

From a manufacturing point of view, what is the difference between a red ball and a pink ball? Does it take more effort and time to produce the pink ball?

Making the red ball is a very simple process. To get the colour on, you just dye the leather and that's it. That process of just dyeing the leather, which is just a day's process, is enough for the ball to stay red. We do a little bit of maybe waxing on it, but the colour part is just the dyeing of the leather.

But with the pink ball, it is a pigment process. It is a six-day process from start to finish, till the time the cup is ready for stitching. There is definitely a lot more work which goes into making the pink ball.

The one big challenge with the pink ball is the colour. Ganguly mentioned after the game that this pink ball was as visible as the red one, if not more. So that was a big plus, good feedback coming from the (BCCI) president himself.

This was the first time for us too, so the next time when we supply the balls, whatever the feedback is there, we will work on it and make it even better.

What feedback about the pink ball did you receive from the Indian players after the Kolkata Test?

Without naming anyone, the feedback was that initially it was difficult for them (the fast bowlers) to control it because they had never used it before. But then during the game they figured out that instead of bowling at a similar length that they bowled with the red ball, they need to do it later.

And that is what they did, which worked out well in the end. They bowled out Bangladesh for just over 100 runs in the first innings.

Virat Kohli

IMAGE: Captain Virat Kohli hit the first-ever century by an Indian batsman in a day-night Test. Photograph: BCCI

And coming to the batting, Virat Kohli applied himself superbly, scored a century and showed how to master the pink ball. In a way, that was a big positive as well for the pink ball, isn't it?

Absolutely! That was also a big plus for us, the Indian captain getting a hundred. He played a chance-less innings; he was looking on a different level altogether.

Have you identified the areas where the pink ball needs to be worked upon to make it better in future games? Is there still room for more experimentation with the pink ball, like some other colour or material?

There is always scope for improvement. We are not saying that it is the perfect ball.

Considering what we were hearing about the feedback of the pink ball during the Duleep Trophy, where they were saying it was going soft, the seam was not there, even the visibility was a factor, all those things were looked after in this pink ball for the Test match.

Nobody complained about the softness or the seam or visibility. But you are right. We will continue to work on these factors where we will try to give an even better colour.

The biggest factor playing with the pink ball is adapting to it. Kohli said if India has to play pink ball Tests overseas it will have to be planned properly and there needs to be enough practice games.
In such a scenario, would it help if we had just one brand of pink ball from one manufacturer throughout the world?
For example, if India plays a pink ball Test in Australia next year with the Pink SG ball, then they will have some experience to fall back on.

So what you are suggesting is that there should be only a brand of pink ball?

Yes....

I am not too sure; it is easier said than done because every board has their own official ball. England has the Dukes ball, Australia has the Kookaburra and so does South Africa.

So that will be a little far-fetched, but from our perspective we want the Indian team to do well at home. The SG ball has played a very big role for the last so many years in terms of we have been winning and our bowlers have been so successful.

Our fast bowlers are now looking like the best in the world. Even the West Indians are comparing the Indian pacers to their great fast bowlers of the past, which is phenomenal.

Could the pink ball and day-night matches reinvent Ranji Trophy cricket, maybe play the Ranji final with the pink ball?

Definitely, that is the next step forward.

The players were a bit sceptical when this Test was announced because they haven't had the practice with the pink ball.

Shami had played one club match in Kolkata way back in 2016; there were a couple of players who featured in Duleep Trophy pink ball games, like Cheteshwar Pujara.

This is something Kohli mentioned. It is not that you play a pink ball practice game and then play a red ball Test followed by a pink ball Test. You have to plan things properly.

If it is planned better and if you have practice games as well, then these guys will excel in pink ball cricket.

I am sure the BCCI technical team will have some Ranji Trophy games with the pink ball, then the Duleep Trophy next year. Get some of the bigger players to turn out in these tournaments. So that will be good for them also.

You have people like Pujara and (Ajinkya) Rahane who play only Test cricket. They can play those first class games with the pink ball and take that experience into the international games.

In the future, would you be looking to bring in more balance between the bat and ball, because right now it looks more in favour of the fast bowlers because of the conditions, like keeping some extra grass on the pitch, the twilight effect and other things?
In the future, could we look forward to the match going into the fourth or fifth day and the spinners playing a big part?

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We will definitely wait for feedback from the BCCI. They told us they wanted the ball to have the same seam as the red ball because there were issues with the earlier pink balls as the seam was not there.

So we gave them the seam; then they said colour was important in terms of visibility, then we ensured that the colour was there on the pink ball for 60 overs, 80 overs, however long they wanted to use it.

The third thing was that they wanted the pink ball to be hard.

These are the things they had given us a brief about and we delivered on what we had committed.

Now if they come back and tell us some alteration is required so that there is a balance, we will work on whatever their request is because they are the customer.

They are ones placing the orders with us. So rather than us telling them what to do, we will wait for them to tell us whatever the feedback or whatever modifications or changes they want. We will work with that.

This match was like a litmus test. They day it was decided, October 29th, till the ball was delivered to them around November 14th or 15th, before the start of the first Test in Indore, so it was just two weeks.

But the next series (at home) is a long time away now, about 11, 12 months. I am sure we will work very closely with the BCCI and whatever feedback they give we will continue to work on it and monitor it.

IMAGE: Fans thronged to the Eden Gardens to witness India's first day-night Test with a pink ball. Photograph: BCCI

Virat Kohli expressed some reservations ahead of the match with regards to fielding with the pink ball. He believed catching was difficult with the pink ball.
You must be pleasantly surprised to see both teams taking some very good catches, thereby laying rest to rumours about visibility and colour.

There were no issues at all. It was just like what you see in a red ball match. We had some brilliant catches taken with the pink ball by (wicket-keeper Wriddhiman) Saha, Kohli and Rohit (Sharma). All in all, the visibility was not an issue.

You had Kohli scoring a hundred, you had fifties from Rahane, Pujara. Even the Bangladesh bowlers were among the wickets, the Indian bowlers also took wickets, so there was no issue.

The only challenge was for us what if the bowlers were not able to pick wickets. We didn't want to see a boring game. That didn't happen and the bowlers dominated.

Now with so much of shorter format games being played, the people are enjoying the success of the bowlers also, which is very good to see.

It is said that to win shorter formats like ODIs or T20s you need very good batsmen, but to win Test matches you need good bowlers who can take 20 wickets. And that is where this Indian team is getting to.

We always had great batsmen all over the years, we had great bowlers, like the spin greats, and then fast bowlers came long, like Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and later Zaheer Khan.

Now we see that it is not only about 3-4 bowlers; we have about 10 very good bowlers to choose from, including 5, 6 fast bowlers.

I don't see why this Indian team won't do well in the World Test Championship. The way they are playing, the bowlers we have, this is the best team in the world and I see them winning the World Test Championship.

While the batsmen say the twilight period is a challenging period when playing with the pink ball, you have something similar when playing with the red ball like the morning session in a Test match when the new ball moves a lot.
So in that sense the twilight period in a pink ball match is not something out of the ordinary, isn't it?

That is exactly what Sachin Tendulkar told Kohli. He told him you have just focus on that session. It is like the morning session of a red ball Test where the ball will do a lot more. You will have to focus more and you have to play like you just started your innings even if you have scored a fifty. That was brilliant advice.

It is a different ball game, the colour is different, the way the ball behaves is different, the time is different, there are other factors which are responsible for the swing.

There is grass which is needed on the pitch to retain the colour of the ball and it aids the fast bowlers more than anyone else.

You never seen a grassy wicket supporting the spinners, it won't turn, it is not dry. So all these things, once they play more, they will start to understand more and once they understand more, they will deliver more.

IMAGE: SG Marketing Director Paras Anand is delighted that the SG pink ball got a thumbs up. Photograph: BCCI

Is the SG red ball jealous of the SG pink ball?

Jealous? Hahaha... No. I think they both complement each other.

They are not jealous, they are playing as a team, if you can put it that way.

HARISH KOTIAN