I must confess I am hugely excited by the idea of playing a Test match under lights. Our game has to move on and keep pace with changing lifestyles and preferences and with plummeting viewership for test cricket, it needs to adapt to survive. If more people can watch cricket late evening, and if it improves the financial health of the sport, we have no choice but to give it a go. Remember day-night matches revolutionised one-day cricket and while there were challenges with thse white ball, we found an agreeable way around it. It could now emerge as a lifeline for Test cricket.
Admittedly, there will be issues to overcome and some of those seem pretty serious at the moment but until you actually try it out you will never know. I remember being in Melbourne sixteen years ago for the first one-day international played in a closed stadium and while it largely worked well players had to get used to the idea that there was no hard square around the wicket. If you hit a ball hard into the ground, like with the square cut, it didn’t exactly speed off because there was a drop in pitch and that was it. The ground beneath silly point was as hard or soft as at deep mid-wicket. And they had to keep shifting the trays that held the grass in the outfield between games because some parts of the outfield didn’t get much sunlight and so the grass grew differently! But these were surmountable issues and the three games there went off quite well.
The issues before day/night cricket, especially on the sub-continent could be a bit more challenging given that we play a large part of it as a winter sport as opposed to it being a summer sport in other parts. It means dew will become a major factor and we have already seen one-day games where losing the toss can provide an insurmountable disadvantage to the side bowling second. We’ve seen some progress in combating that with sprays and mats taken around but while that can take care of the outfield, there isn’t much you can do about the transition of the pitch from dry in the afternoon to moist at night and dry again the next day.
The Test in Adelaide between Australia and New Zealand threw up interesting opinions. The organisers and the fans loved it, there were record attendances and while you need to factor in the curiosity factor, it was still a very healthy response. But the players don’t seem to be too enthused about playing more games because they think visibility is still a factor.
When the top surface of a pink ball peels off, or scratches off, it exposes a darker base and that can make sighting it more difficult in the dark. To counter that, the curator had to leave more grass on the pitch and the outfield so that the ball encountered a more lush rather than a more abrasive surface. It meant the match finished in three days but it has implications for India.
Most times, Test in India are played on abrasive surfaces that help spin and reverse swing. There is nothing wrong with that because you must have home advantage in Tests. (Sri Lanka played at Durham recently, in conditions that were as far removed from Galle as is possible!) It is what makes playing away a greater challenge and that is why away performances tend to be valued more. When you overcome it is always more special. But an abrasive surface in India will wear out the pink ball faster and leaving grass on it will not help the home team very much. India’s outfields, especially at centres that still have practice pitches on the main ground, are drier and harder than those in say England or Australia and that won’t help preserve the colour of the ball either. These are major challenges but these are still in the realm of theory.
You might discover that things are not as bad as foreseen and the first clues will be visible when Ganguly’s CAB stages a game shortly. Learnings from there will be valuable at the Duleep Trophy which will also see the pink ball being used this year and with the leading players present, we will get a very good idea of whether or not a day/night test match is feasible. I will be looking closely too at how tactics evolve because half the game will be played in one set of conditions and the other half in another.
Either way, it is exciting. I hope it works because it is critical to the future of a form of the game we cherish and which is in strife.