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Day-night test cricket - is it really all that?
When the first inklings of the possibilities of day-night test cricket were being suggested, there was a huge amount of positivity regarding the issue. Legends of the game, such as Rahul David and Joel Garner felt that this was the right step in order to preserve the excitement in test cricket. Fast forward to 2015, and the first day-night test match was a reality. The stunning location of Adelaide played host to Australia against New Zealand. Cricket played by two teams, who are exceptionally exciting to watch, only added to the party type atmosphere among the people in the crowd. The success of this test match has made it a yearly ritual at Adelaide which is set to continue later this year, when England go Down Under to defend their Ashes. The common consensus is that the advent of day-night test cricket is to entice crowds to watch the longest form of the game and bring people to the ground who otherwise would prefer to watch the highlights at home. However, as England prepares to host its first version of this spectacle, is this really the answer to reignite the holy grail?
Speaking to the average person on the street about test cricket sees an old adage come up time and again. “It’s simply too long and can sometimes seem like nothing is happening”. Before the die hard fans like me pick up their pitch forks, it is important to understand their view. People, whenever they watch sport, are looking at it from a point of entertainment. They are looking for some kind of meaning, some gravitas to the occasion. Arguably the most famous series in the game had that in abundance. The astonishing Ashes series of 2005 gripped the nation and people who were not cricket followers before suddenly became fanatics of the game. What was the reason? Not because it was played at a time convenient for office goers to watch, but because of the cracking competitiveness of each moment. Everyone was in anticipation of the next moment because it would be pivotal to the outcome of the match. The proud Australians came with a huge reputation and were rightly favoured to win the series against England. But, the magnificent Michael Vaughan led his side with aplomb and not only matched his legendary counterpart, but outdid him on just about every occasion. The main point here is both sides played to win and were very aggressive in their outlook. The short term worry for the match tomorrow is since West Indies are not the formidable force they once were, they will not have the expectation to win. They will believe that if they can compete with England, that will be a success. Even Darren Gough on the radio said it will be lucky to go to the third day and that begs the question, is day-night test cricket really invigorating the game or just a good publicity stunt for fans?
Over the last five to ten years, the cricket tragic of yesteryear has one loud complaint. “The players of today simply do not have the discipline or temperament to play proper test cricket”. The memories of Geoffrey Boycott being dropped after scoring a double century too slowly, or Sunil Gavaskar scoring a “heroic” 36 runs in his 60 over stay at the crease in a one day international have a romance that is so distant to them. However, rather than make the players more defensive and circumspect, should we not look at the length of a test match? Since the start of 2016, 57% of test matches across the world lasted till the fifth day. People may say that this is a number that backs up the claim for a fifth day to remain in a test match. But, as often is the case, the stats only tell part of the story. Very rarely was there any competition on the final day in these matches, they were wrapped up often well before tea time. The clamour for four-day test matches has been ringing very heavily in the last few years, with chairmen of cricket boards giving suggestions of how the whole scenario would work. 100 overs a day has been suggested, later finishing times has also been mentioned. Surely this would make the cricket more interesting to watch. This does not eradicate the patience required to succeed at this level, you still play a similar number of overs and need to have the mentality you would normally have. Having one less day adds to the pressure felt by both teams to achieve a result, and that makes for enthralling sport. That is exactly what the fans want.
But, four-day test matches and day-night test matches are not the answer alone. With all due respect to the West Indies, as mentioned before, they are expected to be rolled over pretty comfortably by the England team who are outstanding in their own conditions. Even in the series against South Africa, a worry was how easily they capitulated in the final innings of the test matches they lost. This is a problem being shared by teams when they travel to conditions that are foreign to the ones they encounter closer to home. The adapting process for teams happens on tour, rather than well in advance of that. For this reason, it is arguable that we should have more international players playing state or county cricket in different parts of the world. Back in the early 90s, Wasim Akram was the most fearsome bowler on the planet and his rise to legendary status was complete in 1992, with those two magical balls in the World Cup final. He credits that rise to playing county cricket with Lancashire, because he played cricket every day and learnt so much on his craft that he became the complete bowler. If more players went to Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India and came to England, they would not be overawed when arriving with their national sides.
So, as cricket in this country sees a new spectacle, it is important that the cricket authorities realise that their work is far from over. Day-night test matches are not the answer, a lot more needs to be done if the game is to see crowds like the heady days of 2005 around the world.