Australia v New Zealand Tests
Day-night revolution keeps Tests relevant
Latest development in the evolution of the sport's traditional format should be embraced by the cricket community
If Test cricket was unable or unwilling to evolve, it would doubtless have faded into obscurity when the combatants in the first 'international' match played 171 years ago – the USA and Canada – lost interest in the sport in the fall-out from the American Civil War.
Or it might still be played with curved bats, bowlers might employ underarm deliveries, overs could consist of five deliveries (or as many as eight), a six would only be awarded if the ball went out of the ground, Bodyline would be legal, declarations wouldn't be, and players could not be paid.
The next evolution to move the game ever forward will be born at the suitably historic Adelaide Oval between November 27 and December 1 this year when Australia hosts New Zealand in the first day-night Test match played under lights.
Quick Single: Adelaide to host first day-night Test
The unprecedented event forms a centrepiece of the 2015-16 Test schedule released today by Cricket Australia, and comes following years of trials to find the optimum venue, lighting and ball and after lengthy consultation between CA, New Zealand Cricket and the player representative bodies the Australian Cricketers' Association and New Zealand Cricket Players' Association.
It also comes in the wake of the International Cricket Council's influential Cricket Committee, of which former Australia captain Mark Taylor and current Australia coach Darren Lehmann are members, recommending that day-night Test opportunities be pursued to address dwindling Test match attendances worldwide.
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"The recommendation to the ICC from our committee was to make sure we're pushing the boundaries and trying to get day-night Test matches … (and) get people to come and watch it in different parts of the world," Lehmann said in England on Monday.
"We think it's an important way to go, but only time will tell if it's right or if it's wrong, and at the end of the day we have to give it a crack and I think it's important for the game."
The Chappell-Hadlee rivalry resumes
In confirming the dates for the historic match, to be played using standard Test match breakdown of three two-hour sessions each day with play expected to begin at 2.30pm and conclude at 9.30pm South Australia time, CA Chief Executive James Sutherland claimed it was an idea whose time has come.
Sutherland said the fact that, by their very nature, the balance of most Test matches are played at times during the day and on week days when adults are at work and children at school meant the game was depriving itself of maximising its exposure to its fans.
"To be brutally honest, if you look at the way that Test cricket is supported around the world it is challenged," Sutherland said.
"It is challenged in modern-day society by two other formats of the game (ODI and T20), so if we reflect on some of the attendances and even some declining (television) ratings for cricket around the world we believe this is an opportunity that can breathe new life into Test cricket.
"By time shifting two or three hours, each day's play can go into the evening, it can allow people to come in after work or after school to attend the last few hours play but also when they get home in other parts of the world or other parts of the country they can watch the game on TV.
"At the end of the day, Adelaide was just the right fit.
"It's a traditional Test ground, one of the most beautiful grounds in the world but with the recent developments there it really is fit for purpose.
"We're really confident that the community will get behind this Test match, but we also know that Adelaide is a bit of pilgrimage for cricket fans all over the world and we hope that New Zealand fans as well will come to this first-ever day-night match.
"We had some interest from other parts of the country and there's nothing to preclude them from hosting day-night Test cricket in the future assuming that things progress from here and it's a really positive occasion."
In addition to providing greater opportunities for people to attend at least a portion of a day's play, the move to evening Test match sessions is expected to draw significant increases in television audiences.
Sutherland said TV ratings in the eastern states of Australia for the annual Perth Test match were around 40 per cent higher than comparable Tests elsewhere because the final session(s) fell within the peak evening viewing period on the other side of the nation.
Chief Executive of the ICC David Richardson said the organisation's Cricket Committee had made its recommendation to explore the viability of day-night Tests in order to increase the game's sustainability in the face of dwindling crowds.
"To do that it (Test cricket) has to remain relevant, (so) we have to play Test cricket at times when it is convenient for people to come and watch," Richardson said.
"You can't put on a stage show in the middle of the day when people are all at work, and I think it is the same principle as far as Test cricket is concerned.
"Let's schedule Test in holiday periods (and) after work in the evenings when people can go and catch a bit of the Test cricket in a relaxed atmosphere."
Both Sutherland and Richardson acknowledge that the manufacture of a ball that maintains the properties and characteristics of the traditional red Test ball has proved the biggest hurdle to bringing day-night cricket – pioneered by Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket in 1978 – to the Test game.
Following exhaustive trials carried out in the Bupa Sheffield Shield competition for the past two years and by the Marylebone Cricket Club (custodians of the game's laws) in the UAE, the pink ball developed by Australia manufacturer Kookaburra has been deemed the closest possible clone.
While most Australia players have had an opportunity to play in a first-class fixture using the pink ball under lights, those who have not will likely get the chance (pending availability and selection) to do so in an early round of Shield matches scheduled before the NZ Test series begins next summer.
"I can certainly understand that people will have some level of trepidation about this," Sutherland said. "We would have seen it a few decades ago when cricket transitioned into day-night cricket (with) white balls for one-day games.
"We're as confident as we can be that the ball is ready to go and from the experiences in the last round of Shield cricket that we had last season we can be confident about that."
Richardson added: "The fact that New Zealand and Australia are taking this step now, quite a bold step in staging a match, the first of its kind, I think will at least show to players 'hold on, it's not as bad as we might imagine'."
"That the pink ball is pretty similar to any other ball we've had to play with, and the scepticism will go away."
Former Australia captain Greg Chappell, who was among the players who ushered in the previous brave new era through their involvement in WSC which featured 'Supertest' five-day matches played under lights using a white ball, said the changed conditions will take some getting used to for players.
But he agreed that Test cricket needs to explore and develop new ways of attracting and maintaining fans in order to remain healthy and competitive around the world.
"The challenge was probably adapting to the changing light conditions during the day, and probably if you were bowling you wanted to bowl at night time rather than during the day (because) the ball did a little bit more," Chappell said of his experiences with earlier trials of day-night first-class fixtures.
"So there will be some issues that the players will have to adjust to and some tactical things they will need to apply to it, but it's just another level of the game to adapt to.
"I'm looking forward to seeing some day-night Test cricket.
"I think in this era it's an ideal thing from the point of view of spectators who can't necessarily get away during the day but can at least get down to the ground during the last couple of sessions or get home and watch it at peak times on television."
From his perspective as a former Test player and now coach of the Australia men's team, Lehmann strongly supports the concept and believes his side will embrace the opportunity to add their names to another part of the game's long and evolving history.
"(It's) very special for everyone involved – players and (Bupa Support Team) staff, and everyone at CA and New Zealand Cricket," he said.
"It's going to be a really interesting time and looking forward to seeing what the ball brings, how it reacts on the pitch, and I'm sure it's going to be OK.
"I'm looking forward to how both teams perform under lights and I'm looking forward to a massive crowd.
"I think it's going to be exceptional for everyone turning up, the first one ever in Test match cricket.
"I'm excited, and I know the players are excited."