The first-ever day-night Test match in the UK – and fifth over overall – between England and West Indies at Edgbaston finished on Sunday with a resounding win for the hosts. The result was expected – with many writing the Windies off before the series. It is unlikely that much will change by the end of the series.
Although West Indies have tasted pink-ball cricket in the past, this is the first time the English side is experiencing the change.
The maiden day-night Test match was played between Australia and New Zealand in 2015 at Adelaide, with the hosts winning the low-scoring thriller by three wickets, finishing the task in three days. In a contest where ball dominated the bat, the batting line-ups stuck with their attacking approaching, producing a thriller at Adelaide.
Adelaide sunset during the maiden day-night Test © AFP
The Adelaide Test also witnessed record audience, both in the stadium and on TV. Estimates suggested that approximately 123,000 people came to the stadium in three days to witness the historical moment. For the TV viewership, the timings were also suitable for one of the biggest markets, including India and Pakistan.
Pakistan and West Indies became the second participant to taste the new format. The second day-night Test was played in Dubai in last autumn, with Pakistan scrapping to a win by 56 runs on the final day – becoming the only nation after Australia to win a day-night Test. Azhar Ali became the first centurion of day-night Test cricket and also went onto score the first double and triple hundred of the format. The dry Dubai pitch hardly produced anything for the first three days, with the batsmen dominating, until Pakistan entered that self-annihilation mode, handing Davendra Bishoo eight wickets and bringing the visitors back in the game.
Azhar Ali became the first-ever day-night Test cricket centurion © AFP
South Africa and Pakistan’s tours of Australia last fall included a ‘twilight’ Test each, with the hosts clinching both the games – although Pakistan came close to a historical chase at Brisbane, falling 39 short of a total of 489.
The Adelaide day-night Test between Australia and South Africa was largely a one-sided affair with the hosts winning comfortably by seven wickets, putting another great ‘twilight’ cricket spectacle.
Despite putting up the spectacle, the quality of the pink ball had come under scrutiny, with the colour of the seam especially becoming a subject of discussion. Recently, Sir Viv Richards also opined that the quality of pink ball is not up there with the red ball yet. The Kookaburra cricket ball was used for the first four, while the Dukes were experimented for the first time in Edgbaston Test.
Faf du Plessis plays a shot during 2016 Adelaide Test © AFP
Moreover, the traditional vs modern debate has been going on as well, with the formers of the opinion that the longest format of the game must be kept as traditional as possible with an odd pink-ball game here and there.
Although the one-sided Edgbaston Test ended in three days, the hosts were able to sell out the stands despite an ordinary competition on the field. This became possible mainly on the back of day-night cricket, with at least five hours of play falling after the regular working hours.
The introduction of day-night cricket has been mainly marketed to shore up the dwindling interest of the audience in the longest format of cricket. While traditional rivalries such as the Ashes won’t be affected much, the claim does hold true for countries such as Pakistan and West Indies.
England have struggled to fill their stadiums against weak Test sides such as the West Indies and Sri Lanka – the main reason propelling the hosts to think towards the ‘twilight’ games against these nations.
The Edgbaston Test was scheduled keeping in view the same and all five days were sold out before the start of the game.
Steven Smith plays a shot during 2016 Brisbane Test against Pakistan © AFP
Despite the debate on the merits of the pink ball game, the trend seems to be picking up. Having successfully showcased three day-night Tests at home – Australia will host a day-night Ashes Test at Adelaide this year. Pakistan will also host a day-night Test against Sri Lanka in Dubai later this year, while England and New Zealand are also in talks to play a day-night Test following the Ashes series. Pakistan has been forced to play almost all of its home games at a neutral venue – mainly the UAE, where the Test matches have seen a meagre audience. The PCB took up the idea in 2016 after some concerned voices.
Although the attendance in the Dubai day-night Test was disappointing, PCB needs to stick to the idea as it is their only hope of bringing the audience in the UAE. While it is illogical to compare the numbers with any side playing at home, the PCB perhaps can look into marketing the game properly, as well as scheduling the games in days that are best suitable for the local audience in the UAE – mainly Pakistani expats.
While the debate on the pink-ball cricket will go on, too many changes in techniques and strategies aren’t expected until all the sides have tasted the format. The format has been marketed mainly keeping in view the financial interests of the hosts, and it’s the audience who will make the format a success.
The writer tweets @khaledumair