I am sitting on a very slow train from Birmingham having spent yesterday getting a taste of our first day/night Test and thought it might be a good opportunity to pen a few thoughts about the innovation.
[A quick aside: it was also my first visit to Edgbaston and was impressed by the experience. While perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasant of grounds, they clearly have their stuff together when it comes to running a big event. Arriving ten minutes before play began, we were through security and ticket check, and were seated, beer in hand, in time for the first ball. The view was good, the beer had flavour, queues were short and ticket prices put other Test grounds to shame. Having reached a certain age and mentality of wanting to, y’know, actually watch the cricket, I have no desire to be seated in what these days is euphemistically termed the ‘party stand’. That usually means having to shell out a king’s ransom to purchase tickets for a part of the ground where there is no danger of being poked in the ear by a beer-snake or harangued by two men (it is always two men) to help start a Mexican wave. Yesterday, seated in the most satisfactory ‘Motorpoint Lower’ – £36. For that, they had me at hello. Bravo Warwickshire.]
The initial impression of this new concept was that it didn’t seem particularly new at all. Day/night cricket is so much a part of the limited-overs experience that – white clothing and pink balls aside – it felt like business as usual. In the build up to the match there was much media discussion about the unsuitability of the British climate for this sort of thing, completely missing the point that this sort of thing goes on all the time. So we know it can get chilly in the evening (and it did) and that dew can form (the rain sorted that one out) and that a summer’s evening in Birmingham is not like that in Adelaide. We know all that because we watch cricket in those conditions all summer. It’s just that the players are wearing dubiously coloured kits and they’re flinging a white ball about.
Which brings us to the colour of the ball. I’d heard Phil Tufnell on TMS the day before suggest that he was having difficulty picking the pink ball up. I’m with him on this. Once it had left the bat, I found myself regularly having to look for the fielders’ movements to search for a clue as to where the ball was travelling. Fortunately Alastair Cook didn’t seem to have that problem from 22 yards. But, I’ll take that if it means we can keep the whites flannels in Test Cricket. An old traditionalist, I may be.
That aside, the experience was pretty much like any other Test Match and that is a good thing. My only issue with the concept is that I’m not entirely sure of the point. At least not over here. I do realise that this particular match has a very clear point – to prepare the England team for the D/N Ashes test this coming winter – and that is fair enough. I have argued elsewhere that I’m all for the County Championship going day/night, pink balls and all, but that’s because so few people go to those games. To have the chance of knocking off work half an hour early and strolling over to catch a session and a bit of a Championship match would be a chance to boost crowd numbers but Test Cricket in this country doesn’t need that. I don’t want to seem complacent but Tests generally sell out and so, not only is it unnecessary, but any spur of the minute evening arrivals wouldn’t be able to get in anyway.
Also, the rhythm of Test Cricket doesn’t sit completely at ease with the day/night format. Come seven o’clock or so when the body is asking questions about dinner, the normal incentive in a one-day game to stay put – the run chase – is absent. We saw how the crowd thinned on the evening of the first day of this Test and, yesterday, when the heavens opened late on, the move to the exit felt universal. It wasn’t just that the weather forecast gave little hope of a resumption of play, it was also that it was almost half seven at a Test Match and it just felt like we were done for the day. Time for a meal on an actual plate, a night-cap and bed. The ideal would be to utilise that and – when dry – let the club re-sell departing spectators’ seats to evening arrivals at a knock-down price; though the logistics of that may be somewhat of a challenge.
That said, there were two clear advantages to the format: First, the long-distance traveller. Yesterday, it took me about five hours to get from my front door to the ground. Not impossible for an eleven o’clock start but would be a right pain in the neck involving early alarm calls and peak-travel train costs. I’d have either done two nights in the hotel or – probably more likely – gone to one of the London Tests instead. It’s mostly why I’d never visited Edgbaston before. Secondly, it eliminated the need for that stupidest of all regulations in cricket which leads to the ludicrous, paying-spectator-insulting sight of play being called off for bad light at grounds with fully functioning floodlights. But don’t get me started on that.
So, the whole experience was pleasingly unremarkable. I don’t see a huge incentive for the innovation, in this country at least, but, if Andrew Strauss et al decided to populate the schedule with the odd pink balled day/nighter, there’d be no need to complain.