I’ll be the first to admit that the concept of day-night Test cricket when it was first announced did not sit overly comfortably with me. As anyone who has read most of my work would know, I am against changing too much to do with the game of Test cricket. I think is it fine as it is and feel that tampering with it too much will destroy the fabric of the game. However we live in an ever-changing world where people are pressed for time and spending five days at the cricket is now a near-impossible task. Something had to be done to ensure that cricket could be played in better time slots.
After being overseas this time last year for the first instalment of the “Pink Test”, this was my first real opportunity to get a gauge as to whether the concept is just a gimmick or something that could really help secure the future of the longer form of the game.
Watching from afar last year and by all reports, the pitch was very green and the game was over within three days. You could argue that there is plenty of regular Test cricket being played that is lasting just as long if not shorter than that. Hobart anyone? This year though, Adelaide Oval’s pitch curator Damian Hough got it right, leaving just the right amount of grass on the pitch which provided something for both the batsman and bowler. You could not have asked for more really.
It is clear that batting at night does appear to be a harder task than doing it during the day, but it offers a new dimension to the game, while at the same time not taking away from the tactics that have long been a part of Test cricket. Bolder declarations, greater thinking ahead, clever bowling strategies and different innovations to reduce the amount of time a side has to face the pink ball at night are creating more intrigue in the contest and are encouraging the spectacle to move at a better pace. Some more research and trials need to be carried out to see if the visibility of the ball can be increased further, which will only enhance the product more.
In terms of location, Adelaide is probably the ideal spot. You could not really play one in Perth given it would finish in the early hours of the morning in the eastern states, which is not great as a television product and it is hard to see the Boxing Day or New Year Test being converted at this stage. Hobart or Canberra would require a sponsorship from a thermal company in order to keep warm during a night session, while the jury is still out on Brisbane for now. In a typical Australian summer of cricket, a single day-night Test match is probably the right number. Perhaps it moves to two matches during a summer where crowd numbers are likely to be low because of the opponent, but that will play itself out over time. In the best of three or even best of five series, Adelaide should be the second Test of the summer. That way, there is no chance that it will be a dead rubber as we saw this year. An early December time slot is also ideal as it moves it away from any other major events. 60% of general admission ticket sales last year were from people from interstate. Eventually this novelty factor will fade away and this number will decrease slightly, so it has to be appealing for locals as well. That is a small concern at this stage.
Cricket Australia’s James Sutherland and SACA’s Keith Bradshaw have both said in recent days that an Ashes day-night Test is their preference for 2017. Bradshaw thinks that the Adelaide Oval will sell out for four days if that was the case. There is the argument that the game would sell out even if it was a regular Test match, but given the success of the first two day-night encounters, surely an Ashes one has to be trialled at least.
Twenty20 cricket is a gimmicky product and one that to me has a limited life span. Day-night Test cricket does not have that feel as the true fundamental rules and ideas of the game are still in place. It is simply being played in a different time slot, with different breaks in play and an increase in tactics and ideas for teams to think about. It is simple as that really.
Day-night Test cricket looks to be a part of the future rather than the future. It should never be played instead of regular Test cricket, but should be used as a complimentary product to enhance the game of Test cricket. Television networks like it, fans like it and it even seems players are beginning to get on board, with stand-in South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis giving the concept his stamp of approval following the conclusion of the third Test. This is important as several players had raised doubts, even after the initial Test last year as to whether the concept should be pursued. With a bit more time, some more tinkering and the right scheduling, there is no reason why the idea of day-night Test cricket cannot enhance cricket around the world. Watch this space.