Empty stands for day-night Test in the UAE - a lost cause?
The first Test between Pakistan and West Indies, played at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, UAE, from 13-17 October 2016, was the first day-night Test organized in Asia. The match proved to be a really tight affair, with the West Indies eventually losing by 56 runs on the final day, after the mandatory last 15 overs had begun.
This match had everything one can wish to see in a Test. A quick recap of what happened will tell you why:
- A triple-hundred, which is extremely rare, that set up a huge first innings score.
- A decent response from the team batting second but falling short of the score by over 200 runs.
- The first team not enforcing the follow on and choosing to set a big fourth innings target, but getting routed for just 123 in their second innings with a spinner picking up an 8-for, thus setting an achievable target for the other team.
- A thrilling run-chase on the final day, with all 4 results possible. Lots of twists and turns and then eventually a team winning with barely half an hour to go for the end of play.
A modern day classic almost, wasn’t it? But wait. There was one thing missing, and a very important one at that.
A 5-day thriller was witnessed by barely a handful of spectators at the stadium. Those watching on television could not help but notice the sight of empty stands around the ground, with no noisy cheering for the players even when the proceedings had gotten really tense.
We all heard on social media and on air from the commentators how there were more people on the ground than in the stands!
Why did this happen?
The concept of playing day-night Test matches came up with one and only one aim – to bring more spectators to the grounds. The thought was that since a Test match day begins around 9:30-10:00 am in most Test-playing nations (11:00 am in England), and ends by 4:30-5:00 pm, this sadly ensures that on weekdays, the attendance is bound to be poor, and with more and more spectators losing interest in the longest format of the game with the advent of T20 cricket anyway, the attendance at the grounds has nose-dived.
Day-night Tests, it was thought, would bring in more people as they’ll start in the afternoon and go on till 9-10 pm, meaning people having the time post work to come to the stadium and watch the game. The idea, on paper, seems to have merit, but was it implemented properly?
Since day-night Tests are only just beginning to find their place in the international cricket calendar, it perhaps would have made more sense to not organize them at a neutral venue at such an early stage. The first ever day-night Test was played at Adelaide last year between Australia and New Zealand. Since the home team was playing, there was substantial interest from the crowd, and understandably so.
Will Starc make the pink ball talk under lights? Will Lyon get enough turn with it? How will Warner and Smith tackle the pink ball from Boult-Southee?
Australian Cricket spectators at Adelaide had all this to look forward to in the first day-night Test and it made sense as it was their home team playing and not two neutral teams. Imagine organizing a day-night Test in India between South Africa and Sri Lanka.
Can the administrators expect people to turn up to the ground late in the evenings on weekdays to see Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva face up to Steyn and Philander, or will they be far more willing to come and watch Kohli and Rahane doing the same?
Any new addition in sport, in its inception, should be done in a manner to appeal instantly to the people before one can assess its success and plan to take it to a broader level.
In this case, it would had made far more sense to not “gamble” with organizing just the second day-night Test ever, at a neutral venue before a few had been organized at home venues of almost all Test-playing nations, as that would have given the administrators a substantial sample size to analyze if this new concept of day-night Tests is actually working.
A lot of research has gone into making the new pink ball. Most Test playing nations are still in the early process of using it in their First Class matches to try and see how it behaves and take feedback from the players on its use. So far, it’s not incorrect to say that the players’ response to it has not been overwhelmingly positive. Many international cricketers have raised concerns over its visibility at night and other features.
- Chris Rogers clearly stated that he couldn’t see the pink ball properly and hence wouldn’t like to play with it ever.
- Mitchell Starc said it didn’t behave at all like the red one, went soft pretty quickly and didn’t reverse swing too.
- Vernon Philander, after bowling with it in a match, stated that it’s not durable and goes soft after 30 overs.
- Azhar Ali said that as a fielder, it's quite hard to see the ball from square of the wicket and sometimes it’s missed completely. High catches were also an issue with it.
Similar concerns have been raised by Misbah-ul-Haq and a few other cricketers.
While these points mentioned here are not to state that pink ball and day-night Tests are not the way forward. All this is intended to tell that until the time players as well as spectators get used to it and it garners substantial interest, organizing such Tests at neutral venues might not be a great idea.
Test cricket, especially in some nations, is struggling to stay afloat with people preferring T20s and ODIs over it. While day-night Tests, with time, might be able to get them back to the grounds, it is imperative that the cricket administrators understand it must be tried with home teams first before taking it to neutral venues.
Opting for neutral venues for this “experiment” might do more harm than good as of now, and that is something Test cricket can ill-afford!