The skeptics and critics might call it a leap in the dark but I prefer to view the decision to play day-night Test cricket – a concept set to become reality when Australia plays New Zealand in Adelaide this month – as thoroughly enlightened. I speak from experience, as one of a group who you could call floodlit cricket pioneers. I was one of the players signed up by Kerry Packer to be part of World Series Cricket in 1977 and it was through my involvement that I was exposed to day-night matches for the first time.
It seems remarkable that it has taken 38 years for our great sport to move from that point to one where we are now looking forward to our first Test under lights. But although it has taken some time to get here, as far as I am concerned it is a common sense decision.
When Mr Packer came up with the concept of World Series Cricket he recognised two things. Firstly he saw that cricket at the top level is a profession and that the best players should be paid accordingly. Players ever since, now wealthy through playing the game, can give thanks to him for that view.
But he also realised that professional cricket, at its heart, is an entertainment for the public as, without the support of that public, it becomes a waste of time. It should take place when the public – viewers, listeners or those wishing to attend the venue – can follow the action.
That, to me, is what day-night Test cricket is all about, giving the public, whether they be working people or schoolchildren – with both groups tied up during traditional Test match playing hours – the chance to watch or listen to the game at a time that suits them.
Ultimately it is all about maintaining the relevance of Test cricket, a format I was brought up on and one I continue to cherish. I love the long game but even a traditionalist like me realises it needs to stay in touch with what people want as they have so many other competing interests in their busy lives these days.
No-one, incidentally, is saying that if the match in Adelaide is a success then Test cricket should make a wholesale switch to day-night timings. To even hint at that is mischievous and misleading. After all, day-night Test cricket would not suit all countries or all conditions.
As an example, you would not rush to play Tests under lights in England because there is no need. The crowd numbers for daytime Tests are excellent, in mid-summer it remains light until late in the evening, and when it gets dark earlier, at the beginning and end of the season, it would be too cold to sit in a stand late at night to watch the action. Similarly, there would be no point in switching matches that take place during traditional holiday periods from day to day-night. Boxing Day and New Year Tests in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are well supported already as people can attend them without taking time off work.
But, as a means to encourage people to watch Test cricket outside of those countries and outside of those times of year, day-night Test cricket is a great concept.
Solution to empty stands
Just look at Pakistan’s Test matches in the United Arab Emirates, played in a country where a large number of the population is cricket crazy and yet which take place in near-empty stadiums. With pleasant evening temperatures there from October to April and a public keen to watch their heroes but unable to do so because of work commitments, the UAE would be a perfect place to play Tests under lights if everything proves to be in order in Adelaide.
I know there has been a lot of discussion about the pink ball – its suitability and its lasting qualities. Kookaburra, the ball’s manufacturer, has been working on the concept for the past seven years and the recent round of Sheffield Shield matches suggested many misgivings were largely misplaced.
It might not be perfect but what in life is? The pink ball has also been tested extensively in Pakistan and South Africa, as well as by the Marylebone Cricket Club in the UAE and the reality is that in order to take the game forward we all have to grasp the nettle and go for it as that is how the human race has moved forward since the beginning of time. And it is a game of cricket we are talking about here, not world peace.
Some of the players may have misgivings and I can understand that. I would be lying if I said I did not have similar thoughts back in 1977. But as Steve Waugh and Ryan Harris, amongst others, have said recently, players are resourceful and they will adapt. I know we did in those World Series Cricket days when we used a white ball for the first time and now the idea of one-day cricket without one would be unthinkable.
I congratulate the two Boards, Cricket Australia and New Zealand Cricket, for their bold step in leading the way following the ICC’s approval of the day-night concept in 2012, and I also congratulate the players for seeing the benefits rather than just the drawbacks. And while the skeptics I have mentioned may like to label those players as guinea pigs, I prefer to see all those involved as trailblazers. They deserve credit for moving out of their comfort zones, and whatever else they achieve in their careers they will now always carry with them the fact they will have played in the first day-night Test that will mark, I hope, the start of a terrific new era for the game’s oldest format.
Zaheer Abbas is the president of the International Cricket Council. He represented Pakistan in 78 Test matches and 62 One-day Internationals