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 Cricket Paper - - THE ASHES FEATURE -

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.

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Great ex­pe­ri­ence: The Ade­laide Oval sets the bench­mark for day-night Test matches

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