England v West Indies: Day-night Test cricket brings little change

By Stephan ShemiltBBC Sport at Edgbaston
Alastair Cook leaves the field unbeaten on 153
Alastair Cook left the field at 21:30 BST with 153 to his name

If you didn't look at the clock, you might not have known there was anything different.

Spectators marched down Pershore Road, lugging coolboxes full of enough food to last a week. The optimistic wore shorts, the realistic carried umbrellas.

Traffic was nearly static, bumper to bumper. Parking was enough of a nightmare to make the £15 space offered by the Church of St Mary and St Ambrose seem appealing, certainly more so than the £20 spot peddled by the chap across the street.

Even the local council seemed unaware that something out of the ordinary was going on.

Its temporary traffic order demanded no stopping between 08:00 and 20:00. Stop for as long as you like at 21.30, which is when 20,000 or so would be leaving Edgbaston.

Only when you studied Sir Harry's chip shop, or the Edgbaston Tap pub, did you know that the body clock needed adjusting.

The queue spilling outside of the chippy suggested a lunchtime rush. Test-match goers are thirsty, but even they wouldn't make the boozer that busy before the traditional 11am start of play.

Yet they were among what turned out to be very few differences.

What about the pink ball?

Pink Dukes ball
The ECB believes the pink Dukes ball is the closest in form and feel to the traditional red one used in first-class and Test cricket

Yes, the brightness of the pink ball was a novelty as England's Alastair Cook faced the first delivery in the Birmingham sunshine.

The pink leather had been the source of much speculation in the build-up. Would it misbehave, either in the natural, artificial or twilight? Would it lose its hardness and create turgid cricket?

As it turned out, West Indies could have been bowling with a red, white, blue or medicine ball. Their scattergun attack was powerless to stop Cook and Joe Root from putting England in command to reach 348-3 on the first day.

The Windies have not won a Test in this country since 2000. The day-nighter has given them little hope of altering that wretched run.

If a change of start time has done nothing for the fortunes of the tourists, then it has only marginally helped England in the bid to solve their oldest problem.

Once again there was a reliance on Cook and Root to score the runs. Mark Stoneman completed a dozen of opening partners for Cook in the space of five years, but made just eight on his debut. Tom Westley managed the same score at number three.

At least Dawid Malan came through the genuine darkness which only arrived half an hour before the scheduled close to have the opportunity to cash in on Friday afternoon.

'I was yawning at nine o'clock because that is my bedtime'

If the on-field narrative stayed the same despite the altered playing conditions, then so too did the routine, rhythm and supporting cast that accompanies a Test in the UK.

The intervals remained the same length and even kept the names lunch and tea despite being shifted three hours backwards.

"I was yawning at nine o'clock because that is my bedtime," joked Cook.

"We are programmed to start at 11am when we play in white kit, but that is nothing more than a mental thing."

We are told on a regular basis that day-night matches become accessible to those who do not want to take time off work, that the stands will gradually fill with white collars arriving from the office.

The first day at Edgbaston did little to support that theory. The majority of the 21,649 that attended were there to see the first ball. Seats that were empty when play got under way remained vacant all day.

For most of the spectators, if any cricket was to be missed, it was at the end of the day, with some starting to file out about an hour before the players left the field.

Even the atmosphere followed the pattern of a normal day at the Test.

When he met the media on Wednesday, captain Root wondered how the famously raucous Hollies Stand might become even more rowdy after a morning in the pub and an extended evening of drinking.

But even the Hollies shifted its schedule, only fully finding its voice in the final session, just as if the Test followed regular hours.

For two sessions, it was quite sedate, but when it awoke, it was a spectacle in itself.

Cops chased robbers, then robbers chased cops. Mr Blobby led a conga line and the singing of Cook's name was loud enough to drown out the brass of Billy the Barmy Army trumpeter.

It might be that Friday and Saturday, usually the most chaotic, are when the Hollies goes bigger, earlier.

England v West Indies
These four fans dressed up as the Jamaican bobsleigh team, from the movie Cool Runnings

Has Test cricket found a new audience?

In all the similarities to a regular day of Test cricket, there is one difference that we can be sure of.

Of the 73,000 tickets sold over the first three days, Warwickshire say that 50% have been snapped up by spectators who have never before been to watch the longest form of the game.

Why has the day-nighter attracted a new audience to Test cricket?

"That it's the first day-nighter makes it more exciting," said Louise from Southam, who was attending a Test for the first time.

"If I enjoy it today, then I'd absolutely come back to another Test, even if it isn't a day-nighter."

Sometimes, the lasting impact of a historical moment doesn't reveal itself until long after the event.

The first tennis match under the Centre Court roof at Wimbledon held a significance because the retractable rain shield was always likely to change the way we watched events unfold at SW19.

Likewise, the first red card dished out by a referee was destined to be the first of many.

But, the first supersub in a one-day international, or the first football match settled by a golden goal have been forgotten because neither innovation caught on.

So, the legacy of this first day-night Test in England will only be revealed by the passing of time.

Alastair Cook drives through the off side
Cook struck 23 of England's 53 fours on the opening day

What next for the day-nighters?

It has not been played for the benefit of spectators, either at Edgbaston or watching at home, but to help the England team, who face day-nighters in both Australia and New Zealand this winter.

In 2018, India and Pakistan will be England's opposition in home Tests. Late finishes in the UK would not suit TV viewers in either of those countries.

The following year, Australia arrive for the Ashes. There may be a reluctance to tamper with that series, especially when ticket sales are usually incredibly strong for the visit of the oldest enemy.

The next day-nighter in this country could be 2020 at the earliest, with Warwickshire chief executive Neil Snowball even saying this match could be the "first and last".

"I can see it being successful in other parts of the world, but whether we need to in England is a different matter," said Cook.

"We're lucky in England that the crowds we get everywhere we play are fantastic.

"It's interesting and the players understand their responsibility to try these things."

The crowd in attendance is one thing, but domestic TV ratings should be monitored closely.

If Test cricket at primetime causes a spike in viewership, it is easy to imagine a scenario when broadcasters and administrators want more of the pink ball, especially when cricket's biggest ever rights deal has just been signed.

The pink ball and floodlights hint at a brave new world, but perhaps television will still be king.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Join the conversation

These comments are now closed.


Top Stories


Elsewhere on the BBC