Are day-night Tests the future of the game?

Dhaka,  Tue,  26 September 2017
Published : 16 Aug 2017, 21:36:00
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Are day-night Tests the future of the game?

FE Sports Desk


English cricket takes a step into the dark today (Thursday) with the first day-night Test played in the country as Joe Root's side face West Indies at Edgbaston.

The opening game of a three-match series will be only the fifth Test anywhere to be played under the day-night format since Australia and New Zealand contested the first in Adelaide in November 2015.

The late start, finish and pink ball are still novelties in the five-day form of the game - but can we expect to see more floodlit matches as Tests fight to stay relevant in a cricketing era increasingly in thrall to the quick hits of Twenty20?

While Test cricket is a tough sell in other parts of the world, England can still largely pack out grounds for the longer format. But with one of this winter's five Ashes Tests to be played at night in Adelaide, and aware of the need to appeal to a wider audience, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) felt compelled to switch on the lights.

"It was first mooted by (ECB director of cricket) Andrew Strauss who was looking ahead to the Ashes this winter," Warwickshire chief executive Neil Snowball said.

"Initially it came from a performance point of view - 'do we, England, want to play the first Test match we've played under lights in the Ashes?' I think the view was 'no, we'd like to have a go before that'. "We were cautious to start with - I'll be honest - because we've done 49 Tests and we sell Test cricket very well.

"But then the more we looked at, we thought: 'Well, actually, we are innovative, it will be a first and it should be good for Edgbaston.'

"Strauss and I sat in here at Edgbaston having a cup of tea watching the cricket last summer and decided, 'should we go for it or not?' We said, 'yes, let's do it'. I'm delighted that we have."

With day two sold out, 92 per cent of tickets sold for day one and 98 per cent for day three, it's no wonder.

And, a few weeks out from the match, over 40 per cent had been purchased by first-time buyers for Edgbaston Tests, suggesting that work-friendly hours and the prospect of witnessing history has broadened the appeal of a game against a mediocre West Indies side.

While floodlit limited-overs cricket has been hugely popular in Australia since the late 1970s, it is only 20 years since the first English county day-night match was staged - when Warwickshire played Somerset at Edgbaston on July 23, 1997, when the old 40-over Sunday League was experimenting with games on other days of the week.

A crowd of 15,174 was a revelation for a humdrum fixture and the hosts won by 35 runs in a match that finished at 23:38 BST. Other counties quickly followed suit, and within six years the original Twenty20 Cup - played largely in evenings - was launched with immediate success.

Floodlit cricket has developed more slowly at Test and first-class level. The annual pre-season champion county v MCC match has been played on a day-night basis in Abu Dhabi since 2010, while a four-day match between Kent and Glamorgan was staged in 2011 before a round of County Championship fixtures in June for which all fit England players were made available. Cricket Australia is delighted that the floodlit Adelaide Tests have quickly become an occasion, while confirmation is expected soon that England will play a day-night match against New Zealand at Auckland's Eden Park in March.

A day-night Test is unlikely to happen in England next year because India and Pakistan are touring and later starts would not suit live television coverage in Asia. Australia are due for an Ashes series in 2019 - which is almost guaranteed to sell out everywhere - so it may be 2020 before it happens again.

But perhaps the full answer to the question until after the Ashes Test under the Adelaide lights in December.
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