The pink ball gets soft quickly and once that happens, run-scoring becomes easy
Australia A 108 (Saini 3-19, Shami 3-29) and 307 for 4 (Wildermuth 111*, McDermott 107*, Carey 57) drew with Indians 194 (Bumrah 55, Wildermuth 3-14) and 386 for 4 (Vihari 104*, Pant 103*, Gill, 65, Agarwal 61)
Centuries from Ben McDermott and Jack Wildermuth – first-class averages of 43 and 29 before this game – kept Indians at bay to earn Australia A a draw in the final tour game before the Tests but not before the new-ball bowlers had shot another blow to Joe Burns‘ confidence, and possibly the selectors’ confidence in him. Burns now has 62 runs from his last nine innings, leaving the Test team a selection headache for Adelaide but equally India learnt something significant about the pink ball with a whole day spent in the field.
The lesson – as has been seen before – is that once the pink ball gets soft it is significantly easier to bat against. It arguably gets softer sooner than the red Kookaburra. On all three days, batting has looked comfortable if you get past roughly 30 overs. India’s all-pace attack, led by Test stalwarts Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami – found little assistance after the three early wickets, all in the bag inside the first 12 overs. Even the fourth wicket – that of Alex Carey – was a gift to the part-time spin of Hanuma Vihari.
If the make-up of this XI was an indication that India were thinking of an all-pace attack – overall numbers do back that direction with visiting spinners struggling badly in day-night Tests in Australia – they might go back from SCG with some second thoughts with how dead it became once the ball went soft.
In day-night Tests in Australia, teams average 27.25 runs for a wicket in the first 30 overs followed by an average 30.4 in the next 50 overs. The run rate jumps from 2.79 to 3.24. That is a 16% increase in both runs per wicket and per over. In day Tests played over the same period in Australia, the scoring rate remains the same after the 30th over at 3.11 while the average goes up negligibly from 38.22 to 39.05. The sample size for day-night Tests is small, especially when the variables of bowling under lights are high, but paired with visual evidence of how easy batting looked after around the 30th over, it might be safe to surmise wickets with the old pink ball might be hard work if not bowled under lights. Remember Bumrah came to bat in the 31st over in the first innings and looked at ease, confounding those who had seen India collapse to 123 for 9.
The day, though, began with questions for Australia. Burns, in what might seem to those on the outside as his last chance to seal his slot for Adelaide, came out with a pretty significant change in his set-up. He stood on off stump, and then made two small movements further across even before the ball was released in order to cover the line just outside off. Pushing at one outside his eyeline is how he got out in the first innings. However, this change left him vulnerable to the straighter one as was visible the moment Shami gave Burns a full straight one, trapping him lbw thanks to a shot across the line as opposed to one with a straight bat.
It won’t please Australia that now the favourite for the opening slot, Marcus Harris, walked straight into a trap laid out for him, glancing a straight delivery straight into the lap of the leg gully. That was a fielder India employed against Harris with success on the previous tour.
After Carey slogged Vihari straight to mid-on, came together two men who were brought in at the last moment as injury replacements. They were solid against India’s Plan A before Wildermuth went after the short-ball plans, hooking with aplomb even against Shami and Bumrah. McDermott got the worse of the uneven bounce when Indians banged the ball in, but he was lucky none of his aerial flicks landed with the fielders. It will be an especially satisfying finish for McDermott, who had converted only one of 16 previous half-centuries into a hundred.
In the end the Indians were happy not to stretch their bowlers for one late push so close to a Test match. The teams shook hands the moment the mandatory overs ended. Last five of those were bowled by part-timers Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo