2017 has seen the pink ball debut in Plunket Shield

Pink ball cricket plenty of fun

Three drawn results won’t do justice to the interest sparked by the introduction of day/night first-class cricket last week.

With round seven Plunket Shield a trial run for a possible day/night cricket Test between the BLACKCAPS and England at Eden Park next year, first-class cricket moved into exciting new territory with night sessions under the blazing floodlights of Eden Park, Westpac Stadium and Seddon Park.

Seddon Park delivered the opportunity to watch from the banks, and curious spectators did just that, popping in after dinner as the half-moon rose over the pavilion for some novel night ball cricket.

The only pity was, after a full opening day’s play, the current torrent of wet weather sweeping the north impacted all three games.

It was something new, even for seasoned players like Brent Arnel. PHOTOSPORT

Days two and three were lost entirely at Eden Park before Canterbury bookended captain Andrew Ellis’s first-day century with Todd Astle’s 300th first-class wicket, amid his 12th five-wicket bag.

More than half the allocated play was lost in atmospheric Hamilton to weather. In Wellington, the Otago Volts became the only side to get in two full innings — but, given they were following on after a first innings shocker, that hadn’t quite been the Volts’ intention at that point.

Night ball cricket #plunketshield #firstclasscricket #seddonpark #nightballcricket 🦉🦇

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While dampish weather inevitably meant bowlers would be in the game, the amount of pink-ball swing under lights is what had our cricketers talking. Central Stag Seth Rance put it on the spot more consistently than anyone and was rewarded with a career-best six for 31, the first four of those wickets acquired in the night session after captain Will Young had declared at nine-down to give his bowlers a chance to utilise the ripe conditions.

It was a canny move adding to the intrigue of pink ball cricket. The pink nut itself stood out clearly in the night session under lights, enhancing the spectator experience as it could be quickly picked up as it flew off the bat around the clock dial — or into the batsman’s pads for a shout. For players, it was a whole new ball game and while reviews were generally favourable, there is no doubt it is different. Northern Districts leggie Ish Sodhi — who prospered with seven for 107 on the opening night — indicated that, for him, catching the pink ball under lights would take a little more getting used to.

“The perception of the ball is different,” said Sodhi. “I personally found it hard to figure out how far it was from my face whenever the ball was coming towards me. You think it's a little bit further away than what it is, and it gets to you a little bit quicker.”

Sodhi’s impact on that opening day/night was remarkable given the Stags had got through the entire opening session without losing a wicket — before he started ripping through the line-up in a marathon 33 overs.

“I think it was also a case of just getting used to the timings [session times],” said Sodhi afterwards — play beginning at 2.30pm and continuing until 9.30pm. A cricket dream for teenage cricketers who can sleep in, be last to breakfast, stay up till midnight, and be perfectly in tune with the hours of play.

“There was a little period there from 12 to 16 overs where I started fading a little bit and had to refocus,” Sodhi noted. “I think it was just getting used to the timings — coming off for ‘dinner’ and then going back on. It was a new experience, but kind of a similar time for me to bowling in a [floodlit] Twenty20 match.”

Seth Rance was superb for the Stags at Seddon

Rance proved that no matter what colour the ball, putting it on the spot regularly helps. His career best was the 29-year-old’s second six-for in a  24-match career, his bowling average now dipping below 20. He was sitting on a knockout 4-6 overnight after day one, having sent three batsmen back in for no score. One of his four interim victims, Henry Cooper, corroborated the amount of swing swung.

“It did swing around quite a bit late at night,” said Cooper. “It was tricky to deal with and obviously we didn't deal with it as good as we could have. But it did move around for our seamers at the start of the day as well. I think it was the night factor made it feel like it was maybe doing a little more than it possibly was.”

Despite swing, ND's seamers ultimately played second fiddle to their leggie

In Auckland, the Aces’ medium pace tradesman Donovan Grobbelaar judged the Eden Park floodlights to be excellent for first-class night cricket and felt the pink ball stood out well. Firebirds captain and first innings pink-ball centurion Michael Papps meanwhile found the night cricket a novel experience in his long career.

“The first two sessions were quite similar, but the third session certainly did feel quite different,” said Papps, whose side came closest to achieving a pink-ball victory — thwarted only by a near-record eighth wicket stand by the Volts as they followed on, Sam Wells producing the second pink-ball ton of the match.

Sam Wells raised his bat under lights. PHOTOSPORT

“Before we went off for dinner on day one, there was still a lot of natural light,” said Papps, “but coming back out the lights had definitely kicked in and it took quite a bit of adjusting to the artificial lights. There might have been a bit of uncertainty with the pink ball, but to be fair it's played pretty well and hasn't done anything out of ordinary.”

Lights taking full effect now @edenparknz #pinkball cricket gets the big ✅ #PlunketShield

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The BLACKCAPS have already experienced a day/night Test — playing in its international debut at Adelaide Oval in late 2015, and the same ground will host the first ever Ashes day/night Test in December later this year. Feedback and reviews of the ground-breaking round in New Zealand conditions will now be thoroughly worked through by New Zealand Cricket staff who, like the players, might only have wished for a more cooperative weather forecast.

More on New Zealand's first day/night Plunket Shield matches:

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