Cricket's new experiment delivers positive result

Cricket's new experiment delivers positive result
The first-ever day-night Test played between Australia and New Zealand in Adelaide turned out to be a successful encounter.
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120,000 spectators in three days, two happy captains, a pink ball, floodlights and a new chapter for Test cricket.

A rare game played in three different formats, cricket is still evolving more than a century after it was developed. It is still trying to find its relevance in the modern day, dabbling with rules, with lengths of games, with different tools and a bit of technology.

In the past decade, thanks to the growing popularity of Twenty20 cricket and the mushrooming of T20 leagues all around the world, Test cricket was left with a massive question to answer, to hold its own amidst shrieks for more entertainment, more glitz, glamour and adrenaline.

With day-night Tests, it has delivered an answer, a good one, a solid one, probably one that in the words of Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand captain, is “here to stay”.

The pink ball was a good experiment. It lasted well and the balls didn’t need changing frequently. That was a lot more than what anxiety had some naysayers believe.

The visibility wasn’t exactly a controversial problem, although Steven Smith dropping two catches in two days is the cricket equivalent of witnessing two solar eclipses in a month.

How much of it was the ball’s fault is hard to tell for now but a little adjustment by the players is all it needs to make it a better experience.

The bigger problem was with the movement of the ball off the pitch and that could be corrected too, by providing less grass on the surface than what was seen for the first day-night Test.

It could definitely have been more fun to have another 40,000-strong crowd on day four and maybe even day five to break box office records. That was not to be, but one thing is for sure. There’ll be another one. Soon. Not sooner than later. Soon. That itself proves that the experiment was a success.

What was amazing to witness was the fact that audiences loved the experience. Yes, there is the novelty and a sense of occasion that brought the crowds in Adelaide to witness the match.

After a while, that novelty will wear off and there’ll be a dip again. Yet the sheer timing of a day-night Test means that there is the opportunity for a lot more people in the home country to catch up with the game, one of the reasons why football is so widely attended and viewed on television.

The day-night Tests, like day-night One-Day Internationals which are now a norm, will start when it is still bright and sunny and would soon proceed into the night.

Virender Sehwag once suggested after playing a four-day game that it would not be a bad idea to time the day-night game in such a way that the tricky twilight hour overlaps with lunch, or an evening snack if we have to be logical about the name of the break.

That way, players wouldn’t be distracted or troubled sighting the pink ball at a time when it is neither day nor night and the shadows are lengthening. Interestingly, if the white ball could survive the test of time, there is no reason, from the evidence of the third Test between New Zealand and Australia, which the latter won narrowly, why the pink ball wouldn’t survive.

While the day-night Test, where the highest total was Australia’s 224 and which the hosts won eventually by three wickets, checked the entertainment, safety and attendance boxes, tinkering is still required.

Yes, the game involved some really quick bowlers but will players loathe playing Test cricket under the lights, if there isn’t a financial incentive, is one question that has to be answered. One million dollars was, after all, quite a substantial amount.

Will day-night Tests bring out crowds across all parts of the world?. Countries like England do not have to worry about this change considering they usually get sell-out crowds for their Tests.

Will Indian audiences embrace it the way they have embraced the Indian Premier League? At present Test cricket is played using three types of balls – SG, Kookaburra and Duke. It would be interesting to see how spinners and seam bowlers adapt to the new ball and how batsmen shape up to play it.

For now, Test cricket has been rejuvenated with an evolutionary idea that was long overdue.

One unforeseen incident, one scary bouncer, one drop too many – that is all it takes to scrap off the idea before it takes off, but luckily, the third Test was fun.

Perhaps Test cricket has found a much-needed new lease of life.

© Cricket World 2015