Embrace the day-night experiment, say former India players

The first Test under lights may or may not be an appropriate game of Test cricket, but it is worth finding out. Trepidation may have been felt by players digesting the idea of having to undergo an experiment of day-night Tests with a less-familiar pink ball, but it has little in common with the novelty of day-night One-Day International (ODI) fixtures when they began.

Former India all-rounder Madan Lal, who figured in India's first ODI under lights, is all for the day-night Test.   -  Sandeep Saxena

The first Test under lights may or may not be an appropriate game of Test cricket, but it is worth finding out. Trepidation may have been felt by players digesting the idea of having to undergo an experiment of day-night Tests with a less-familiar pink ball, but it has little in common with the novelty of day-night One-Day International (ODI) fixtures when they began.

The faster wearing of the white ball, when it was gradually introduced, wasn’t a hindrance to the suitability to ODIs, and players had reasons to enjoy the occasion. The first day-night ODI was played at the Sydney Cricket Ground, between Australia and West Indies, in November, 1979. By 1984, India’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, primarily used for other sporting events, had become the second venue to embrace floodlight international cricket; it seemed the product was popular with everyone.

Madan Lal, India’s handy all-rounder in the 1980s, played in an unofficial ODI under lights at the same venue in Delhi in 1983 against Pakistan, and in the ODI a year later. “We had no experience of playing under lights in those days, but we liked what we saw. The ambience of the excited crowds and the playing under floodlights was fresh. The experiment paid off,” he told Sportstar.

"Superb experience''

India’s former opener Kris Srikkanth summed up the experience of playing Pakistan under lights in 1983 as a “superb experience”.

In terms of challenges faced by players under the white ball under lights, there was uncertainty over how long and how much swing the ball would possess, and its visibility. “There were fielding difficulties initially, but adjust karna padta hai (you’ve got to adjust). It was cooler at nights than in the day, and the ball would move under the lights. The white ball was not hard to get used to,” said Madan Lal.

A limited-over game accommodated the characteristics of the ball, the colour of which was perfect for night. But a first-class match needed a more durable ball to last 80 overs, at which marker a new ball can usually be claimed in Tests. The pink ball is said to be the best one to retain its colour and shape for a considerable time, and be visible

under lights. Although some players who have played with this ball, notably Australia players Adam Voges and Mitchell Starc, have expressed doubts over both durability and visibility, there is also an understanding that any new thing takes getting used to.

"Changes are good for the game"

“Even with the pink ball, you (are likely to) get used to it. But the upcoming Test will make it clearer. We’ve had new rules to deal with in cricket, for example, that of having only four fielders outside the circle (in ODIs). But changes are good for the game,” Madan Lal said.

Limited-over formats are relatively new and were added with the idea of having an entertaining supplement to Test cricket. But should a venerable product, which hasn’t undergone any major shift since its birth in 1877, be toyed with in this manner?

“I agree Test cricket cannot be played around with. But why not try the experiment? If it isn’t good, we can chuck it. There have also been talks of converting five-day Tests to four days, with 100 overs bowled each day (90 overs are bowled in a day of a Test match). Experiment karna chahiye (Experiment should be done),” Madan Lal felt.

"We have to start somewhere"

It is a perspective Srikkanth also shares. “We have to try out new things. The pink ball is a matter of getting used to. We have to start somewhere (despite the resistance).”

This is what the board that has mooted the idea and organised the event had in mind. Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland had taken cognisance of the difficulties faced by players when the pink ball had been trialled in the Sheffield Shield, Australia’s domestic first-class competition, in 2014. But ahead of the Test, he has indicated that the complaints emanating were already heeded to, and that the ball was sufficiently good for a Test. In other words, the small concerns may fade away after some experience in these new settings.

One of the primary objectives of the initiative is to make Test cricket relevant and exciting in the present age. Perhaps audiences will decide if this project has lasting capabilities: if the brand of cricket suffers in comparison with the conventional Test, the buzz around this type of contest may recede. But for now, players, administrators and fans will be keen to observe and soak it up.