Time to see the light on playing Test cricket at night
Thursday November 19, 2009
THERE is a point at which beleaguered Test cricket and the game's faddish shorter forms intersect, and it is where cricket authorities must redouble their efforts if the traditional game is to avoid the redundancy to which it is seemingly fated. It is called sunset.Alone of the three forms, alone also among major sports, Test cricket is exclusively a daylight game. In its heyday that did not matter because all sport was played in the daytime. But for 25 years sport has been moving into the night. The biggest football fixtures are played after dark, the biggest tennis matches, too. At the Olympics, the biggest days are nights.Fifty-over cricket mostly is played in the afternoon and evening €” it used to be called day-night cricket €” and Twenty20 lends itself ideally to the night stage. But Test cricket strays into the floodlights only when the weather closes in or the over-rate lags.This is not necessarily because of stodginess or intransigence. Rather, it is because no one has yet been able to produce a red ball that is visible at night, nor a white ball that lasts 80 overs. Authorities and makers have experimented furiously, but unavailingly,But the time has come to bite the bullet. The consensus of players and fans is that the Test format does not need to be altered in any substantial way. It is a more vibrant game now than 25 years ago, thanks to players like Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist. It ought not to be shortened, nor can it be sped up. Its rhythms still appeal. But it is being jostled out of its pre-eminence by other forms.The fact is that for cricket fans more than any other, the night game has spoiled it for the day. A seven-hour sojourn at the height of summer can be a gruelling experience, a vigil of sacrificial devotion, running the gauntlets of sunburn, sweat and sozzlement. In all senses, night takes the heat out of it.Night Tests, imaginatively ticketed, would make the form accessible again to office workers, schoolchildren too. Sometimes, this is overlooked here because our major Tests are always played in the holiday season. It is not so everywhere.Naturally, there would be reservations and protests. Dusk would become a tricky time. In day-night cricket, it is generally absorbed by the change of innings. In Test cricket, it would signify a perhaps dramatic change in environment.But Test cricket is a game of infinitely variable and ever-changing conditions; it is one of its charms. In few other games can such a random event as the toss have such import. Sunset would be like a thunderstorm or the taking of the new ball, another stage to be negotiated.In Australia, there is no urgent issue: Test cricket remains well supported, although this summer's plain-looking fare will be a test of loyalty. Elsewhere, as revealed in a survey of the game commissioned by Marylebone Cricket Club and reported in The Age yesterday, Test cricket is not merely ailing; it is already dead. That is inescapable.Day-night games will not necessarily save Test cricket worldwide. But doing nothing will certainly kill it.