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From the wise to the wacky: How does Test cricket solve its bad light problem?

by Henry Clark
@HenryWAClark 4 minute read

After bad light and persistent rain helped wipe out most of the second Test between England and Pakistan at The Ageas Bowl, debate has raged in the cricketing sphere of how to fix one of Test cricket’s oldest problems.

High profile current and former players are now urging cricket’s lawmakers to look into the rules surrounding the light to prevent more days of cricket from being lost. We take a look at some of the weird and wonderful potential solutions.

Switching to a pink ball

A solution rapidly gaining in popularity is to switch to a pink ball, either mid-Test, when the umpires feel it is becoming too difficult for the batsmen, fielders and themselves to see the ball without being in danger, or even for all games.

Nasser Hussain has been particularly vociferous in his support for this and believes it is a good option if it means the players remain on the field for the paying public.

Writing in his column for the Daily Mail, Hussain said: “I understand the argument that the red ball can be harder to see under lights, in which case Test cricket should consider using a pink ball more generally if it means the players stay on for longer.”

Introduced to the game in 2015 to enable day-night Tests to take place under lights, the pink ball has attracted its critics in the past as being too helpful for bowlers. Even if its use can be stomached in the odd game, switching between pink and red and back again, in some eyes, would damage the integrity of the contest. Stuart Broad, for one, told Sky Sports Cricket: “We’ve seen with the history of the pink ball under lights, it’s been very tricky for the batsmen and would be unfair to the balance of the game.”

But Hussain, along with other significant voices in the game such as Michael Vaughan, believes getting the game on should always be the prerogative.

He said: “I know there’s a problem with it going soft, but if the alternative is no cricket at all, then give me a soft ball every time.”

Make all Tests day-night

If switching between red and pink balls mid-game is an issue, why not make all Test matches day-night games to eliminate the chance of bad light halting play?

Day-night Test cricket was introduced to try and reverse the trend of dwindling crowds at Test cricket grounds. In England, where Tests are generally well attended, the need for them has been less, and there has been only one day-night Test on these shores so far. That was against the West Indies in August 2017, with England winning by an innings inside three days. But in other parts of the world it is becoming increasingly popular.

The main issue again surrounds the pink ball, with the feeling that players can make do for a Test or two, but would rather not have to say goodbye to the red ball altogether.

Increased flexibility over timings

With the amount of work that has gone into making both Test series possible this summer, it has made for infuriating viewing, when, on more than one occasion, following a delayed start to play the sides have then traipsed off for lunch after just an hour of cricket.

Regulations set by the game’s governing body leave little wriggle-room for umpires and has led to widespread criticism for the lack of flexibility at the disposal of the game’s officials.

Flexibility over start time would also help maximise the amount of play in a day. This summer there could have been scope, with players and broadcasters only over the road in a hotel, to bring forward the start of play when weather conditions later in the day did not look favourable, or to make up time lost earlier.

This could, of course, cause problems when crowds are re-introduced at some stage in the future, with the traditional 11am start time in the UK helping everyone be at the ground by the time play starts. But when those fans are sat at home desperate for some cricket, surely slight tweaks like this could be the answer to give them their cricketing fix?

Reserve days

Also suggested was the introduction of reserve days into the Test match schedule to account for any play lost. Usually only used for one-off finals when a winner must be declared, the idea has its merits, meaning fans don’t come away feeling short-changed and increasing the chance of a proper result.

However, with an already jam-packed international calendar which must also juggle with global franchise tournaments, the idea could be tough to make happen from a logistics point of view.

Let the players, not a machine, decide

Nothing draws groans of despair quite like seeing the third umpire run out a light meter for the on-field officials.

Former players and fans have criticised the existing procedures around judging the light, lamenting the fact that a small device and not the players on the pitch decide whether it is dangerous or unreasonable to play.

Law 2.5.2 of the ICC’s Test Playing Conditions states: “The umpires shall be entitled to use light meter readings as a guideline for determining whether the light is fit for play” and that light metre readings “may accordingly be used by the umpires” (law 2.8.5.3) “as benchmarks for the remainder of the match” (law 2.8.5.3.2).

There are two confusing aspects to this: why there can’t be a uniform bad light reading used worldwide, rather than having a new standard set each Test match, and why the players aren’t consulted over whether they feel safe playing on.

But whether both teams will act in the game’s best interests rather than deciding what is best for them in the current state of the game could be a sticking point.

Just deal with it

Part of what has led to the frustration this summer is that the players have often gone off for bad light even when the floodlights are in full use. Since sport is primarily played for entertainment, could we not countenance playing in less-than-ideal conditions if it means the fans get what they want? But safety is still a concern, especially when bowlers the pace of Naseem Shah and Mark Wood are involved. There does need to be some precautions taken to ensure batsmen can see the ball.

It’s England, it happens!

Sometimes it’s just best to shrug your shoulders. It’s England after all, it was bound to happen at some stage. Yes, it’s infuriating but it’s also out of anyone’s control. Unless you want to ban Test cricket being played in England (an option some touring fans might well want to entertain) maybe cricket and its supporters will just have to live with it. There have, after all, only been three draws in England since 2015. It’s not as if Test after Test is being ruined by the light.

Changing room cricket

A true staple of the club cricket rain delay. The dressing rooms at The Ageas Bowl won’t have quite the nooks and crannies of those found at your local village side but if anything that’s an excuse to pile both teams into one changing room to settle a Test match once and for all.

And of course all local rules will apply; imagine how good it would be to see one hand, one bounce, no attacking shots allowed (no chuckling in the corner, Sibley haters) and bins used as fielders.

This article was brought to you in association with Wisden’s official betting partner, bet365 . For all the latest England vs Pakistan odds and in-play markets, visit bet365

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