the blueprint for day-night success
Tim Wigmore hails the impact of day-night cricket in Adelaide and asks whether it will be the norm in five years’ time
The Adelaide Oval, Australia’s finest cricket ground, may well never stage a day Test match ever again. If there is a sadness in this realisation, it also reflects how it has only taken the ground three years to make its daynight Test into an institution.
Everything about day-night cricket at Adelaide seems perfect, starting with the bridge from the city centre into town. Remarkably, this was deeply controversial, and caused deep angst among many local residents when it was built.Yet strolling over the pedestrian bridge before play begins is now wired into the very experience of attending a day-night Test at Adelaide. It sets the day up perfectly.
It is enough to ask why on earth daynight Test cricket took so long. But the sport has always been too conservative for its own good, fretting over the impact of statistics, and worrying that change will destroy all that is worthwhile about the game, rather than ensure its vibrancy for the next generation.
And so, even when the International Cricket Council approved day-night Tests back in 2012, boards were reticent to organise them because so much looked like it could go wrong – the lights, the ball, the weather, the crowd, the pitch and, more fundamentally, the very essence of Test cricket.
Some, including Kevin Pietersen, even said that day-night Tests would need their whole new category of statistics – an absurd notion, because Tests have always evolved, and been staged over anything from three to unlimited days, on wickets covered and uncovered, and with overs of four, six and eight balls, and yet emblematic of a common view. When Cricket Australia wanted to stage the first day-night Test, they had to stump up a $1 million bounty for the players – split 60-40 between the winners and losers – to get New Zealand to agree.
That was then; this is now. The inaugural day-night Test was driven by fear that the cricket would be soporific and dull. So extra grass was left on the wicket to ensure a spicy Test. A threeday finish, marked by intoxicating bowling under lights, with the ball hooping around prodigiously, ensued. It was a brilliant Test – even if it was utterly out of kilter with the slowburning epics that have been Adelaide’s trademark.
Now, authorities do not arrive at an Adelaide day-night Test with any trepidation, only anticipation. There is no insecurity about the spectacle not being up to scratch, so Adelaide has returned to its roots: of Test wickets designed to last for five days, matches which unfold slowly and tensely, and then explode into life. Of cricket which keeps you gripped, and which is highscoring yet played out at a tempo that is an antidote to the razzamatazz of Big Bash matches, which, in their own very different way, also captivate Adelaide.
Adelaide has very particular advantages. Most obviously, there is the power of first-mover advantage, which means that Adelaide is the standard against which every other day-night Test ground will always be judged; what we have come to expect from daynight Test cricket is governed by what we have already observed at Adelaide.
The weather, of course, is another boon, too – notwithstanding some unseasonal showers in this year’s Test, Adelaide has ideal climes, and late enough sunset, to render it perfect for day-night cricket. The Adelaide Oval itself, with its grass banks and transcendent view of purple twilight, is also the perfect venue – a case study that it is indeed possible to regenerate grounds without destroying their soul. Its location is ideal, allowing fans to walk over the bridge and back into the heart of the city. That Adelaide only has a population of just over a million also means that fans’ journeys homes are not too arduous – and, crucially in these times, it is easier to police than in cities where rowdy spectators must scrum to get onto trains home. These advantages are not easily replicated; no other ground is so ideally-suited to staging day-night Tests. And yet none of this is to suggest that day-night Tests need only be staged at venues which match Adelaide.
The question should not be whether other grounds can match the Adelaide experience; it is whether, for fans watching in the ground and on TV, a daynight Test will provide a more fulfilling experience than a day one. In many cases, the answer will be yes.
And so, within five years, do not be surprised if half of Tests worldwide are day-night games.
Great experience: The Adelaide Oval sets the benchmark for day-night Test matches