The first day/night Test match is guaranteed to be a disaster. The pink ball will be too hard to see for players and spectators alike, it will lose its hardness too quickly, it will stop swinging sooner; any number of things can and will go wrong. Even if the game itself is a classic, people will go through each session afterwards with a fine tooth comb to prove definitively that batting at night is harder than during the evening session, or that spin bowlers are being handicapped by dew on the outfield, or whatever else the numbers conjure up. And we couldn’t care less. Because Test cricket at night is going to be bloody amazing.
Despite our increasingly decrepit appearances (that’s what a lifetime of excessive gin consumption can do to you), none of us here at 51allout are actually old enough to have been around when the first limited overs day nighters were played. But we can guess the same sorts of debates raged, and despite everyone likely thinking the whole thing was insane, the show got off the ground because Kerry Packer threw enough money at it to make it happen. A bit like Donald Trump’s election campaign. And unlike a hypothetical Trump presidency, it proved to be a massive success, with nary a demonised Mexican in sight. Not because its detractors were proved wrong, but because people loved the concept of cricket played under lights.
Even today day night games are utterly unfair. The problems with the white ball have never been effectively resolved, issues with dew still plague the game and despite any number of rules revisions, the imbalance between batting first and second has never been adequately resolved. But nobody ever complains about this stuff, because playing cricket at night provides far more benefits than the sum of these few drawbacks.
Test cricket is a different beast of course, and with a far greater history behind it than the limited overs format. It’s still rightfully seen as the premier form of the game by proper cricket fans (up yours IPL fans, you plastics) and any change in its rules, whether it be four day games or allowing Stephen Peter Devereux Smith to bat twice each innings, generates uproar. Although we think the latter idea would be a definite improvement. One of the concerns is that night Tests would undermine the legitimacy of the format, but honestly we think most people are worried it will mess up their statistical databases, a bit like those pesky ICC Tests did.
Test cricket shouldn’t be restrained from evolving and playing Tests at night is better than playing Tests during the day if nobody subsequently turns up to watch. And that should be the only real measure of success: if people turn up in droves to watch, and keep on doing so, the format should be persisted with, even if initial results are disappointing. Which they are almost certain to be.
The appeal of the format should be self-evident. Cricket played during the evening is spectacular. Add a full house, where everyone is likely to be drunk after work (there’s not much to do in Adelaide other than drink yourself into oblivion in the hope you’ll blissfully forget that you live in Adelaide) and you have a pretty enticing setting for a cricket match. The Adelaide Test is almost certain to sell out the evening sessions, and for a non-Ashes contest that is almost unprecedented, at least in the modern age. The contrast between it and the following Test, played against the West Indies in Hobart, will be stark. Particularly since the latter will likely only be attended by two men and a dog. Although in Tasmania that might all actually be just the one person.
Night cricket’s appeal in the UAE ought to be similar. Currently nobody attends Pakistan Test matches, because sitting all day in a stadium that also happens to be located in a desert is nobody’s idea of fun. Then there’s the fact that the locals, beneficiaries of modern
slavery capitalism that they are, can hardly ditch work to go watch the cricket. At night it’s a different story, and the only time during the series against Australia last year that any crowds turned up was in the final few hours of the day. Moving the whole thing to the evening makes quite a bit of sense.
The format won’t be for everyone, granted, but that the Kiwis have already binned one of their scheduled Tests against Australia next year in favour of more limited overs matches shows how Test cricket shouldn’t be taken for granted. It desperately needs to expand its appeal, and if staging games at night achieves that, that we’re all for it.