The problem with day-night Tests

"Personally, I would prefer to see just two to three day-night Tests per year. I am a traditionalist at heart and believe that the Test game should not be tinkered with too much."

It will be very difficult for the pink-ball, day-night Tests to pick up as the venture faces a host of problems.   -  REUTERS

Preserving the pink ball is not easy. It requires grassy pitches and outfields to remain durable over at least 80 overs. The presence of grass on the pitch, can, however, prove detrimental to the batsmen.   -  AP

During the coming year we are going to see increasing experiments with “pink ball” day-night cricket around the world. Many hope that the innovation will be a major boost for Test cricket, increasing flagging spectator interest in various Test playing nations. Unfortunately, while I understand everyone’s keenness as we try to save and protect the Test format, I believe day-night cricket will remain a novelty possible in only a handful of countries.

 

The first-ever day-night Test match in Adelaide late last year was certainly well-supported. By all accounts, spectators let their hair down and enjoyed themselves. However, for the players, the cricket was brutally tough on a grassy pitch and the game lasted just three days. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem for day-night cricket: bowlers will run amok as they exploit difficult night-time conditions on pitches that have extra grass.

The reason for this extra grass is because the pink ball deteriorates faster than its red counterpart. The manufacturers have been working incredibly hard to address this, completing all kinds of experiments and trials in the product development departments, but they are yet to crack the problem of creating a ball that is visible in day and night and also lasts for 80 overs.

This is a particularly problematic issue for Asian countries keen to introduce the concept. Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all face serious problems with the dew at night. This is manageable in one-day cricket — although it still often unfairly disadvantages one team — but will be a huge issue for Test cricket. If combined with the grassy pitches, the dew will create treacherous conditions and wickets will tumble.

Asian teams would need to sacrifice their traditional advantage on dry, turning pitches and day-night Test matches would most likely be short affairs. I can’t see the players enjoying themselves. It would be a huge challenge of skill and mental toughness, but also luck would play too great a part and you don’t want that when you are talking about the game’s ultimate format.

The only countries where I can see day-night working reasonably well would be Australia, South Africa and England where dew is not severe. If the ball can be improved a little more, then perhaps we can see some good cricket. Personally, though, I would prefer to see just two to three day-night Tests per year. I am a traditionalist at heart and believe that the Test game should not be tinkered with too much.

What is far more important in terms of Test cricket’s survival, is giving the format proper context and end the current method of bilateral scheduling. As I wrote in my last Sportstar column, I believe we have to move towards two divisions. This will help developing teams and, crucially, stimulate greater interest in the format with each game and series having a clear purpose and significance.