When the first ball thunders down the pitch this afternoon in the day-night Test between Australia and Sri Lanka, the pink cricket ball will literally be in the spotlight.
The allowance of day-night test matches by the International Cricket Council in 2012 has been the biggest shake up to the test format since the move from timeless tests to the current five day format. But there was one hindrance to staging day-night test matches – the ball. The traditional red ball is unsuitable for use under floodlights as it becomes difficult to see. Likewise the white ball used in one-day games was unsuitable because of the white clothing worn in test matches.
Enter the pink ball and Packer Leather, a Brisbane family business established in 1891. For almost 130 years the Packers have been producing premium leather, and for the past 30 years have been specializing in high performance leathers for sporting and military applications. Got a nice pair of footy boots from any of the big brands? There’s a good chance the leather in your boots came from the Packer’s factory at Narangba.
Around 10 years ago the business began working with the iconic Australian brand Kookaburra, providing red and white leather for the brands cricket balls, used across all levels of Aussie cricket. They then worked with Kookaburra to develop the pink ball, enabling the beginning of the day-night test format.
Andrew Luke is Packer Leather’s Technical Director and says the process of developing the pink ball with Kookaburra was relatively simple from their end:
“We take instruction from Kookaburra, but the nature of cricket in Australia is that there are many different stakeholders, who each have a different opinion on the colour and how the ball should perform. Basically Kookaburra would filter through all that noise and instruct us how to proceed.”
In the early days there was much testing around what the optimum colour of the ball would be. Andrew explains – “Red and white balls do have some subtle differences, so we started down both tracks – do we produce a pink ball more similar to a red ball, or should it be identical to a white ball with the only difference being colour? So with each of the trial rounds we did, we focused on those options and what was going to best for the game.”
The production process for cricket ball leather is actually a lengthy process, taking three times as long as other leathers the factory produces.
“Once we’ve sourced the suitable rawhides (a closely guarded secret), we process the leather into what we call a pickle, then we grade and tan the material ahead of dispatch.”
“It is a lengthy process in that the work we do on the leather is fairly traditional compared to some of the more modern leathers we make for other global sports brands.”
So when you see the pink ball in action in the day-night test, think about the family business on Brisbane’s northside, who’ve helped to re-invent the game.