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By Partab Ramchand
With the MCC World Cricket Committee coming out strongly in favour of day/night Test matches to save cricket’s traditional format it surely is no more a question of whether but when the inaugural Test under lights will be played. The committee at its meeting at Lord’s last week expressed fears for the future of Test cricket unless steps were taken quickly to promote the traditional format and called for the immediate introduction of day/night matches to give a boost to the game in countries where attendances are low and unfortunately this seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
The committee, which consists of a host of former players was of the view that recent successful testing with pink balls could well mean that floodlit Tests can start as soon as possible. There has been some resistance to the move by traditionalists who believe that there should be no major changes as far as Test cricket is concerned. But as Steve Waugh the former Australian captain who is on the MCC committee said ``a day night Test would be a chance to be part of history by taking the game in a different direction and Test cricket needs a few little changes to get people back on board and watching it.’’ He cited the example of World Series Cricket and the widespread changes it brought about in the manner the game has since been conducted. Cricket followers were uncomfortable initially with coloured clothing, night cricket, black sight screens and white balls but over the years all these changes have come to be accepted as part of the game.
Indeed in recent months there has been much talk about staging day-night Test matches in the midst of the raging popularity of Twenty20 cricket. A couple of months ago the then ICC president David Morgan made it clear that it would not be too long before day-night Tests are played.
The concept of day-night Tests has been held back principally by concerns that the white ball used for floodlit cricket will not stand up to the wear and tear of a five-day match. But that does not seem to be a problem that cannot be overcome and the authorities have already tried balls of various colours to see which one could be the best. In any case Morgan is convinced that it is only a matter of time before day-night Test cricket makes an appearance. According to Morgan he had already talked to administrators in Australia and India and they were very much for it. In fact James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, is leading the push for Tests under lights and there have been trials held in 2nd XI games in 2009-10.
Over the years first with the growing popularity of ODIs and now with cricket’s newest and shortest format engulfing cricketing audiences the world over like nothing before the debate has intensified over the very survival of Test cricket. At times like this my mind goes back to similar fears expressed at the height of the popularity of the one day game in the 80s and 90s. The cynics at the time predicated the death of cricket’s longest and traditional format which has now lasted for over 130 years. Now ironically with Twenty20 having caught the imagination of the cricket loving public the so-called experts are saying that it is time for Fifty50 to be phased out!
As a traditionalist I would like to believe that whereas interest in Test cricket is still high this is not reflected in the spectator response. Empty stadiums during the five days of a Test match is admittedly a most discouraging sign and except in England and the Ashes series dwindling crowds are now the norm for Test cricket. Perhaps the time has come for changes to be made in the format so as to attract more spectators and among the many ideas being mooted day-night matches seem to be the best bet.
The time does seem to be right for Test cricket to make the shift to the day-night format. Administrators should embrace every opportunity to attract more viewers to Tests and playing it day-night would be the most effective way of doing so. The change in the timings could also make Test cricket more appealing to broadcasters. Whether we like it or not, broadcasting determines whether a game survives. There could be a real resurgence in the ratings if Test cricket was played under floodlights.
A start could be made with day-night Test cricket being held initially on a trial basis after a few modalities are worked out. Any sport has to move with the changing trends and the time has come for a bit of a shake-up in the traditional format in keeping with the times.