Flicking the Switch

Rob Ridley asks Cricket Australia about its plans to host the inaugural day and night test next month, and whether it will help to create cricket’s new breed of 24hr party people.

Cricket Australia will take the sport’s most historic format into uncharted territory later this month when Adelaide hosts the first day-night Test match.

Australia and New Zealand will face off at the Adelaide Oval from November 27 to December 1, with the game concluding a three-match series for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.

The Test will be the first to take place partially under floodlights and has been designed as a means to reinvigorate a format that has found itself under siege from the competing attractions of one-day international and Twenty20 cricket.

The concept of day-night Tests has been a pet project of CA chief executive James Sutherland, but has been a long time coming.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) initially approved day-night Tests in 2012 before its Cricket Committee in May submitted a “strong recommendation” that member countries consider staging day-night matches.

CA confirmed its Adelaide Test a month later, and Sutherland told SportBusiness International: “I guess from our perspective we’ve tended to say it’s been a matter of when not if. We really believed it was only a matter of time for this to happen.

“I can understand people will have a level of trepidation about this. We would have seen it a few decades ago when cricket transitioned into day-night cricket with white balls for one-day games.

“That’s something where the game has evolved and it’s commonplace now. But we’re making sure that the players from both teams are well prepared.”

While Test cricket continues to draw strong attendance in the likes of Australia and England, in other countries matches are often played out in front of sparse crowds.

Order of Play

Play will get underway at the Adelaide Oval at 2pm local time, with a day’s third and final session scheduled to end at around 9pm. Sutherland concedes that one of the global challenges with Test cricket is that at least three of the days are played on weekdays, in the middle of the day – a problem that the day-night format will partly address.

He said: “It’s all about the fans. It’s about really trying to make sure that Test cricket retains its currency in a rapidly changing and competitive market.

“And for us it’s about time shifting the ordinary hours of a Test match to later in the day to allow more people to attend and by extension more people to be able to watch on TV.

“There’s no doubt Test cricket in Australia has been strong over the last decade and we’re really pleased with the way it is continuing to be supported by Australian cricket fans. But at the same time different series attract different levels of interest.

“We always have a challenge in the early parts of the season – the first three to four weeks of the summer when it’s still school time – kids are still at school and adults are working.

“If you look at the way Test cricket is supported around the world, it is challenged.

“It’s challenged in modern day society and by two other formats of the game, so if we reflect on some of the attendances and even some declining ratings for cricket around the world, we believe this is an opportunity that can breathe new life into Test cricket.”

Contrary to some of the reports I’ve read, this is about keeping Tests alive

New Spotlight

CA’s domestic broadcast rights partner, commercial broadcaster Nine, has been a supporter of day-night Tests, eyeing the potential boost in ratings and advertising revenues such a move can provide.

Sutherland added: “By time shifting two or three hours, each day’s play can go into the evening and allow people to come in after work or after school to attend the last few hours of play.

“Also when they get home in other parts of the world or other parts of the country, they can watch the game on television.

“The Perth Test match for example is a great illustration of that. It’s fanatically watched on the eastern seaboard of Australia every year because of the time difference.

“Our television ratings are something like 40 per cent more for the whole country.”

Adelaide and Hobart were believed to be the main contenders for the landmark match, with Sutherland stating the Adelaide Oval represented the “right fit” for the occasion amid substantial interest.

“It is 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,” said Sutherland.

“We had strong interest from other parts of the country and there’s nothing to preclude them hosting day-night Test cricket in the future, assuming that things progress from here."

New Balls, Please

For the cricketing purist, Test matches remain the sport’s greatest art form.

There will also be space for innovation, including the introduction of new balls Sixteen different shades of pink, along with different construction methods, were also analysed to come up with a final product designed to produce the required visibility levels, while also wearing naturally throughout the course of the game to produce a proper contest between bowler and batsman.

Sutherland admits the Adelaide Test will be a step into the unknown, but if successful it could serve to intensify the spotlight on the format, not just in Australia, but also overseas.

“We don’t know how it’s going to go, but we’ve done a lot of testing and have a high level of comfort that everything is ready,” he added. “Hopefully it will be a great fan experience and also a great experience for those watching on television. From there, I think the confidence will grow.

“Contrary to some of the reports I read, this is about keeping Tests alive and about providing an option for Test cricket that can help it attract greater audiences.”

In The Pink

There have been many challenges for the day-night concept, chiefly the design of the bowl to be used.

Pink balls supplied by Kookaburra will replace the traditional red balls, but players from both teams have expressed misgivings over how they will impact play, both for the cricketers and the fans.

For its part, Kookaburra developed its first pink ball a decade ago.

Yellow and orange colours were initially considered, along with a variety of colours for the stitching, before the combination of a pink ball with green stitching was settled on.

“We’re really confident with the work that’s been done over the past few years, James Sutherland, Cricket Australia CEO said.

“We’ve worked very closely with the Australian Cricketers’ Association and Kookaburra in the development of the ball and the continued upgrade to make it ready and fit for purpose. And that has been one of the biggest challenges in putting all of this together in time.”

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