Why has Pakistan been a vocal supporter of day-night Tests?
Tightening his grip on the new ball, Mitchell Starc came running in with the breeze to deliver the ball. Martin Guptill came forward with great intent, only to bar the ball from kissing the off stump. A simple act of cricket – ordinary as it appeared – marked the beginning of a new era.
An extension, with a shade of vivid cerise, to the previously rigid gentlemen’s game. On November 27th last year, cricket welcomed the introduction of day-night Test matches with enthusiasm and mild scepticism.
Peter Siddle pushed the ball away aggressively as he ran to complete the remaining runs, guiding the hosts towards victory in a historic finish under floodlights that almost certainly ensured that the new format demanded to be more than just a one-time event.
The remodelled, revitalised format is played using a pink ball rather than a red one to make it easier for batsmen and fielders to spot it under artificial light. The pink ball, unlike the classical red cherry, tends to swing less and softens much quickly, yet it understandably poses many problems for the players simply because it openly challenges the traditional form of the game. Day-night Tests have garnered mixed reviews from cricketing pundits, former and current players and while some are naturally hesitant, some are excited about the prospects of playing in one.
A notable problem, as foreseen by many, in some areas around the world is the dew factor that could lead to the ball being affected. Especially for Asian countries, dew factor is a worrying issue for teams fielding under floodlights. It not only makes it difficult for the fielders to run around in such conditions, but also makes gripping the ball tightly an increasingly difficult tasking, especially for spinners. For fast bowlers, the central problem is the lack of swing generated by the pink ball which could possibly be due to the difference in leather used for red and pink balls.
While such criticisms would indicate batting friendly conditions, that has not been the case either. Batsmen too have openly criticised the pink ball and the matches, one international and domestic, that we have seen thus far have been low-scoring games. The Trans-Tasmanian rivalry could not explode with bat as the match ended within three days, which has not happened in an Adelaide Oval test since 1951. The first 25 wickets tumbled in two days, mainly in the night sessions, which could raise a few, valid questions regarding the playing conditions and the maintenance of balance between bat and ball.
Along with batsmen and bowlers, fielders too felt uncomfortable with the unfamiliar ball, especially those who were fielding closer to the boundary ropes which would further raise questions over whether the crowd was able to accurately detect the ball either. Moreover, the ball, after finding itself at the receiving end of Guptill and Kane Williamson’s bats unusually lost its original, bright pink colour and appeared to be more green than pink in just a few overs. With the colour darkening and the ball losing its shine, player performance is ultimately secondary to player safety. If ball visibility is genuinely low, then playing in such conditions could become a matter of serious safety concern for the players.
Despite the reluctance of some players, the administrators, especially Cricket Australia, are pushing ahead with day-night Tests as firm believers in the pink ball. Promotion of pink ball cricket is crucial to the survival of the longest format. Despite the three-day finish, the day-night concept for tests was popular with local fans, with the crowd of 33,923 on day three taking the total attendance to 123,736 for the match. Such numbers and figures have been unknown to Test cricket for many years now and the new format could prove to be the crowd-magnet that all boards are hoping for.
Day-night Test matches would also nullify, to an extent, time differences between television audiences trying to view the match from another part of the globe. The new time frame is more viable and caters a larger target market by pulling crowds during periods that are free of extreme heat, especially areas like the United Arab Emirates, and by providing an opportunity to the mainstream, middle-class population of a country that has unparalleled passion for the game to actually visit the grounds and catch a glimpse of their heroes in all-whites.
Pakistan has been a vocal supporter of day-night Test matches in the recent past. Unlike other governing bodies in international cricket, Pakistan has been highly acceptive of the initiative and is in fact the first Test playing nation to formally propose playing a Day Test match, a proposal that was straightaway declined by Sri Lanka in 2013. Pakistan’s support towards day-nights shall not be underestimated as, in recent years; the influx of pink ball cricket has drastically increased in the domestic circuit. With one Pakistan keenly awaiting their maiden day-night Test in Brisbane later this year, preparations are at full swing.
The Quaid-e-Azam Trophy final between Sui Northern Gas Pipelines and United Bank Limited was played under floodlights with the cream of Pakistan’s cricketing circuit getting their first taste of the new experiment. The pink balls, for the occasion, were imported directly from Australia. The likes of Misbahul Haq and Azhar Ali played the final of Quaid-e-Azam Trophy with the pink ball and while the game undisputedly belonged to the bowlers, especially Bilawal Bhatti, both batsmen felt and expressed whole-heartedly their support towards day-night Tests and their promotion. More recently, the board announced that 10 day-night matches are to be played with the pink ball in the forthcoming domestic first-class season in an attempt to familiarise local players with the new conditions and prepare accordingly for the ultimate test in Brisbane.
The difference between day-night Tests and regular Test matches is the difference in the degree of open-mindedness, innovation and freedom that fans worldwide and pundits of the game are willing to embrace. While people would indeed want the tradition and originality of the sport to remain intact, it could hamper the progression and growth of cricket as a global sport. Day-night Tests could elicit greater fan anticipation and involvement and, at the end of the day, cricket finds itself competing against and losing out to other sports that have a massive representation. While cricket continues to confine itself to mainly 10 nations, the sports industry is growing at a rapid pace that would become impossible to match if innovation and improvements are viewed as threats.
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