Venerable Test cricket, 138 years after its origins, is about to get a glitzy makeover in this week's first-ever day-night Test match between Australia and New Zealand in Adelaide. While playing with a pink ball under lights is an anathema to staunch cricket traditionalists, administrators are pointing to dwindling crowds and outdated scheduling as they attempt to move the Test format forward.
Emboldened by the success of Twenty20 with its frenetic pace and slick innovation, Cricket Australia is trialling day-night Test cricket from Friday in a bid to attract more fans and interest.
Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland is a leading proponent and believes it should be viewed as part of the evolution of the five-day game. “We know and understand we need to shift entertainment into periods of the day that are more appealing,” Sutherland said.
“I love all cricket but my preferred format of the game is Test cricket. And I honestly believe if we do nothing then we are at risk of loving Test cricket to death.”
Tickets for the day-night Test match, where play will be from 2:00-9:00 pm local time, are selling briskly, with Cricket Australia comparing the interest to a high-demand Ashes series against England. The contrast with Australia's first two daytime Tests of the current series against New Zealand could not be starker — with low turnouts and funereal ground atmospheres in Brisbane and Perth — yet again bringing into focus Test cricket's ability to survive in a modern sporting environment.
While the day-night concept has been hailed as “thoroughly enlightened” by the new international cricket chief, legendary Pakistan batsman Zaheer Abbas, it has its opponents. Some players have been critical of the revolutionary pink ball — used because the traditional red ball is difficult to see in the dark — complaining it deteriorates more quickly.
Kookaburra, which manufactures the balls used in Australia, say the difference between the red and pink versions is primarily a very fine film of extra paint used on the pink ball to help keep its colour.
Kookaburra said the pink ball had gone through rigorous testing. “I don't think any Test ball has gone through the level of testing and development that the pink ball has got and the number of trials and feedback,” Kookaburra managing director Brett Elliott said.
Don’t mess too much
Despite many seeing a need to reinvigorate Test cricket, the Federation of International Cricketers Association cautions against rushing into embracing day-night Tests as part of the sport's future.
“Test cricket is seen as the pinnacle format by the majority of international players. The fact that players value it so highly is critical to its survival as a format around the world,” FICA chief Tony Irish said. “One really shouldn't mess too much with that.”
But pink-ball Test matches could just be the start of a cricket revolution, if some visionaries have their way.
Former Australian captain Mark Taylor, now a current Cricket Australia board member and television commentator, is advocating the introduction of four-day, 100-over Tests and a more clearly defined championship.
Taylor wants all Test matches to begin on Thursdays, allowing games to build to a Sunday evening climax.
“You've got to look at the game as a whole. Where is cricket going? The younger generation generally want more instant gratification and I think over five days to keep them interested in the game is not so easy,” he said.
“People are more about who is the best in the world at the moment. They like watching World Cup finals (so) if you're always working towards who is the best Test team in the world, that can only help the game.”
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