Bad light, bad decisions and funny coloured balls

Like many cricket fans, I was frustrated when the umpires decided to take the players off for bad light on day four of the 3rd Test at Old Trafford. With bad weather forecast for the following day I was desperate for them to play as much cricket as possible in the hope of getting a result out of the game. Instead we saw England keep the Ashes, not at the end of a glorious run chase, or last wicket stand, but via a presenter in a studio telling us there would be no more cricket that day. After the inevitable big build up to this Ashes series, it was a rather damp squib, though a win for England in either of the two remaining matches should at least stop Australia questioning the final result.

Not only was I not at the ground, I was actually listening to it on the radio, so I can’t really comment on whether it was the right decision to stop for bad light or not, but many others, Jonathan Agnew and Michael Vaughan amongst them, certainly felt it was a bad call. With so much discussion about DRS in this series it was unfortunate that yet again the talk was more about the umpires and the rules rather than the game itself.

For me though, it raised an interesting question about Test cricket. We all accept that rain will stop play, but in an era where fans watch much of their cricket under floodlights, is it acceptable that bad light should stop test cricket? The grounds that host test matches must despair when the floodlights that they spent all that money installing can’t help them get a full day’s play.

I appreciate that the umpires have to consider the safety of the players, but at the same time they also have a responsibility to try and get as much cricket played in each day as possible, after all, test match tickets are not cheap (at least not in England). It was particularly galling that in this case the Australian captain was desperate to keep playing, even when Cook had given the ball to Broad and Anderson (Cook of course was quite happy to go off…).

The problem of course, is that the traditional red ball used in test cricket is hard to see under floodlights. Most one day and T20 matches are now played with the white ball, which works well at night, but unfortunately the white ball seems to lose it’s colour and deteriorate too quickly for a test match, where a ball needs to last for 80 overs. The other issue of course is that they don’t work well when players are wearing the traditional whites. Although the white ball doesn’t last as long as the red ball, the general opinion is that it does swing more, though it’s hard to judge how much of this is down to the ball and how much of it is down to the variety of conditions it’s used under.

A number of TV networks, the ICC and even the grand old MCC seem keen on the idea of day/night cricket, saying that it makes sense to have more cricket played at times when fans can attend and watch on TV. This is of course is partly a commercial desire on their part, and perhaps applies more to countries like India, where test cricket is in serious danger of being usurped by the lure of the shorter format of the game. One suspects that some English counties may also be attracted by the opportunity to get a few more bums on seats by playing day/night county championship games.

A number of tests have been carried out with coloured balls, mainly orange and pink. A pink ball was trialled for a dead rubber county championship match between Kent and Glamorgan in September 2011, and was quickly condemned by Kent’s wicket keeper Geraint Jones, who stated that it would make test cricket boring and too much in favour of the batsmen. Neither side’s bowlers had any luck getting the ball to move, though a slow pitch at the St Lawrence didn’t help. Overall the experiments so far have been mixed, but it’s something that should be given up on, with all the technology available it can’t be beyond the talents of the human race to develop a ball that works well enough under all conditions.

Even with the advent of T20, cricket retains its passion for tradition though, and both players and fans are often quick to dismiss change. Personally, I’m not completely sold on the idea of day/night test matches myself, but I’m not totally against it. However, if a new colour of type of ball can be found which can be used in all lights and can last the distance then it opens the opportunities not only for day/night tests, but might also be considered as an alternative for the red ball in normal use, thus meaning that no time is lost to bad light (at least at grounds with floodlights). I appreciate that some may feel it’s sacrilegious even to suggest this, but test cricket cannot stand still and if losing the red ball may allow us to see more games played in their entirety and create opportunities for more people to watch first class and test cricket then we’d be foolish to not consider it.

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