With the ICC giving the green signal for day/night Test cricket, the game is poised for exciting times. It certainly marks a major turning point in cricket’s long history for whatever changes that were made over the years seemed to be in regard to the limited overs game. Cricket’s traditional format was largely untouched except for some minor changes. But this is a major step and one that could have a profound effect on the game as a whole.
The first step was taken earlier this year with the ICC Cricket Committee coming out strongly in favour of day/night Test matches to save the game’s traditional format from dwindling crowds and general lack of interest. With the competition first from ODIs and more recently from T20, Test cricket’s popularity had taken a nosedive particularly with the younger generation of the game’s followers.
A few solutions were put forward but the best always seemed to be day/night Test matches and it is hoped that the revolutionary decision will give a boost to the game in countries where attendances are low and unfortunately this seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
That it has taken so long for the step to be formalized was because there was resistance to the move by traditionalists who believed that there should be no major tinkering with Test cricket. There is evidently still some resistance to the move going by the reactions in some circles though it has had more than its share of backing too.
As former Australian captain Steve Waugh said last year "a day/night Test would be a chance to be part of history by taking the game in a different direction and Test cricket needs a few little changes to get people back on board and watching it."
He cited the example of World Series Cricket and the widespread changes it brought about in the manner the game has since been conducted. Cricket followers were initially aghast with coloured clothing, night cricket, black sight screens and white balls but over the years all these changes have come to be accepted as part of the game.
Waugh received support from then Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi who felt that in a changing world it was necessary to make changes according to the times. "When you can have Twenty20 cricket and 50-overs cricket under lights, why not Test matches? I think it would increase the crowd participation and increase revenues and viewership for Test matches," Afridi was quoted as saying.
And after staging the final of its premier domestic tournament under lights last year, the Pakistan Cricket Board were quite enthusiastic about backing ICC's idea to introduce day/night Tests. The PCB hosted its first official day/night first class match - the final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy between Pakistan International Airlines and Habib Bank at the National Stadium in Karachi.
It was played with orange balls and PCB officials expressed optimism about the future of day/night Tests. "It was a successful experiment and we have sent a positive report to the ICC," said PCB's Director (Domestic) Sultan Rana.
Indeed in recent times the talk about staging day/night Test matches in the midst of the raging popularity of Twenty20 cricket had become more vociferous. A couple of years ago the then ICC president David Morgan made it clear that it would not be too long before day/night Tests were played.
Morgan said he had already talked to administrators in Australia and India and they were very much for it. In fact James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, has been leading the push for Tests under lights and trials were conducted during the 2nd XI games last season.
The concept of day/night Tests was held back principally by concerns that the white ball used for floodlit cricket would not stand up to the wear and tear of a five-day match. But the authorities tried balls of various colours to see which one could be the best and now they have narrowed the choice down to pink after considering orange for a brief while. To make it more flexible the ICC has left it to the two contesting boards to choose the type and colour of ball to be used.
Over the years first with the growing popularity of ODIs and now with cricket’s newest and shortest format engulfing cricketing audiences the world over like nothing before the debate had intensified over the very survival of Test cricket.
At times like this my mind goes back to similar fears expressed at the height of the popularity of the one day game in the 80s and 90s. The cynics at the time predicated the death of cricket’s longest and traditional format which has now lasted for 135 years. Now ironically with T-20 having caught the imagination of the cricket loving public, the so-called experts are saying that it is time for Fifty50 to be phased out!
As a traditionalist I would like to believe that whereas interest in Test cricket is still high this is not reflected in the spectator response. Empty stadiums during the five days of a Test match is admittedly a most discouraging sign and except in England and for the Ashes series, dwindling crowds are now the norm for Test cricket. Given this background, the time is right for Test cricket to make the shift to the day/night format.
Administrators should embrace every opportunity to attract more viewers to Tests and playing it at sunset and night would be the most effective way of doing so. The change in the timings could also make Test cricket more appealing to broadcasters. Whether we like it or not, broadcasting determines whether a game survives. There could be a real resurgence in the ratings if Test cricket was played under floodlights.
Any sport has to move with the changing trends and the time has come for a bit of a shake-up in the traditional format in keeping with the times.