In a bid to set the new Hundred competition apart, the England and Wales Cricket Board are considering using an orange ball instead of the traditional white. The idea, which is still on the drawing board, came about because of a desire for the format to be instantly distinguishable from first class and limited overs cricket.
After a week of trials and pilot matches involving England Women academy players and a number of first and second XI male county cricketers, a number of innovations were trialled, such as a fielding timeout, new batsmen on strike even if the previous pair had crossed and substitute fielders. While the matches that took place at Loughborough and Trent Bridge used a white Kookaburra ball, there is a chance further pilots next year may feature a ball of differing colour and make.
The belief is that the orange ball will not only give the format a unique slant when it comes around in 2020 but will also be easier to pick up from the stands. While the pink ball was discussed, the dire feedback from domestic players and coaches on the ball after this summer's round of day-night Championship fixtures was reason enough to park that particular suggestion.
The English manufacturers Dukes have been constantly developing an orange prototype. In 2010, they presented the ball to the ECB and MCC with a view to trialling it as a replacement for the white ball in limited overs cricket. That summer, it was given to the England and Pakistan Test sides to try out in the lead-up to the second Test at Edgbaston. The feedback from the players was mixed. Currently, an orange Dukes ball is used in the Hong Kong World Sixes.
Kookaburra also have a working orange ball, which is used in some age-group and recreational cricket in Australia. Back in 2013, Cricket Australia conducted a number of tests and found the best iteration of this particular ball was one with a black seam. During the 1990s, orange and yellow balls were used for day-night Sheffield Shield matches.
There are potential stumbling blocks for the orange ball. Practically, it can pick up dirt quickly and darken in colour, making it harder to see as day turns to night, though it should last the rigours of 100 balls. Earlier versions of the ball were also said to produce a "comet trail" on television monitors. It would also hamstring branding and shirt designs for the eight new teams to avoid clashing.
Another innovation being considered for the competition is to offer batsmen a free hit in the event of a wide. At present, only a no-ball is penalised with a free hit. With fewer balls to play with, the theory here is to prevent negative bowling. This particular ruling was trialed thought not on Monday, when the press were invited to attend.
The final set of pilot matches this summer will be played by the full England Women's side on September 27. After then, a survey will be sent out to all 420 members of the Players Cricket Association to gauge their thoughts. It is hoped that those who took part will take positive feedback back to their respective dressing rooms ahead of these surveys.