After a full week of analysis, talk of pink balls, discussing the pros and cons of introducing day/night test cricket to ‘save the sport’, finally the dust has settled on England’s first foray into hosting a pink ball test.
A test match (albeit a horrifically one-sided one), did in fact take place, the sun is still rising each morning, runs were scored, wickets were taken, beer was imbibed. In many ways, it was not all that different to most other tests played on English soil, except that the level of drunkenness in the Eric Hollies stand was up a notch from usual, which is potentially the most impressive thing about the entire weekends’ cricket.
From my point of view, I find it extremely difficult to understand why there is so much repetitive, defensive talk about the merits of day/night test cricket. From the moment that Edgbaston announced its intention to host England’s first ever pink ball test match game, commentators and ex-players alike have bemoaned the idea based on the widely held view that test cricket, in England, does not need day/night cricket in order to (continue to) flourish. Is that not obvious? Of course English cricket doesn’t need day/night tests. England are in the privileged position that themselves and only one other country in world cricket (Australia) hold. People love test cricket here. The stadiums, admittedly much smaller than in some parts of the world, generally sell out for the first three days of every test no matter the opposition. It’s a huge social occasion, a huge corporate entertainment opportunity, and even for many non-cricket fans, it’s a good day out. Therefore, no need to change it, right?
Furthermore, conditions in England are unsuitable for the pink ball version of the game. Even in mid-late August, when the Edgbaston game was played, there was only 45-60 minutes of what you might call ‘night cricket’, i.e. the period after sundown when the floodlights took full effect. The weather in England also means late evenings get cold even in the height of summer, therefore potentially making life very uncomfortable for the spectators.
Therefore, once again, surely there’s no need for a change?
When considering such changes, it’s important to understand the context within which this first day/night test has been introduced in England. It is not borne out of a necessity to improve the ticket sales, nor does the game in England need jazzing up to appeal to a new audience. It also does not require the post 5pm footfall of people coming to the ground after work to watch the second half of the days’ play. This aspect of attendances was a major consideration the New Zealand Cricket Association took into account when trying to secure a day/night test against England at Eden Park next March; it is thought that whilst many kiwi spectators are unlikely to take a day off work to watch a test match, the hope is that many of them will head to the ground (which is not far from Auckland’s CBD) to catch the last 40-50 overs in the evening.
As previously stated, the test match edition of our beloved sport is in rude health here.
In many other parts of the world, this is not the case. The empty stadiums around the test playing world is an increasing frustration. The emergence of T20 cricket has undoubtedly cast a shadow over several countries’ interest in the longest format.
Although Twenty 20 cricket is ideally seen as a ‘gateway drug’ of the cricketing world, the hope that young fans will be drawn in by the colour and excitement of perhaps the IPL or the Big Bash, then slowly graduate into test cricket as they get older and begin to understand the intricacies of test cricket and why it can pose such a fascinating, albeit much different, contest. However, there are worrying signs in several countries that this just isn’t happening, and support and interest in test cricket is just being left to dissipate.
As a result, the introduction of a day/night test format may well not increase stadium numbers (except perhaps for those based in central city locations such as the aforementioned Eden Park). However, the simple fact that it will be on TV throughout an evening surely means there is the likelihood of a significant increase in viewing audiences, and hopefully therefore an increase in interest.
The game of test cricket has survived for 140 years because of its ability to evolve. The size of the stumps has changed, as has the balls. Pitches being covered, batsman wearing helmets, the size and shape of the bats, the changes in fielding restrictions, the restriction on bouncers, the no-ball rule, DRS, I could go on. Most of these changes went if not unnoticed, then at least to a certain amount of applause about keeping the game current and up-to-date. Surely day/night test cricket is just another of these innovations? The fact that it requires a pink ball should be of little relevance compared to the possible upside of bringing in large numbers of extra viewers, weather on television or in the stadium. It must not be something that countries like England and Australia get on their high horses about and start criticising changes that don’t need to be made. The fact is that in many parts of the world, they are needed, and needed immediately.
And considering such changes are required in other parts of the world, England must therefore follow suit. I wouldn’t wish to see a home Ashes test played with a pink ball under lights, nor do I think that there should be one in the Ashes series Down Under as there is in Adelaide later this year. However, England players will, moving forward, increasingly need plenty of game time in this new format in order to give themselves a chance of competing when they go away. Matches against the likes of the West Indies at Edgbaston are a perfect opportunity to up the interest levels in a game that potentially they might have otherwise struggled to sell. Therefore, it is surely an obvious necessity.
Weather countries like England and Australia need day/night test cricket in order for the game to survive and thrive in those countries is not the point. The point is, global test cricket as a whole needs such innovations, and it is the responsibility of all countries to toe the line. The sooner we all realise this the better.