• Van Hawke Sports

Cricket's fight with light

- By Josh McCreadie

Image: Skysports, Cricket Richard Illingworth and Richard Kettleborough measuring the light at Ageas Bowl

As an avid cricket fan nothing frustrates me more than cricket itself - fact.

There is clearly an underlying issue with the sport, but not with the game itself. Now what I mean by this statement is that I don't believe there is an issue with the physical aspect of cricket itself. Any sport that's stood the test of time since the 15th century proves that, even if many would argue any sport that takes five days to play out a draw is fundamentally flawed but that's an argument for another day. My issues with cricket ultimately comes from ‘the top’ and a seeming reluctance for any cricket to be actually played! Of course this is almost certainly an overreaction on my part, but far too often that feels like the case, and it's a problem that has been brought back to light (yes pun intended) during the recent England test series with both the West Indies and Pakistan.

Look, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against ECB who were able to get International Cricket on during these unprecedented times. The work and effort that must have gone on behind the scenes to get these matches to go ahead must have been unparalleled. For both the West Indies and Pakistan to take a punt on coming to England to play a game of cricket at the height of the virus. So,after all this effort to then have constant delays because of “bad light” is frankly embarrassing. With sport coverage being few and far between on our televisions and with no other international cricket being played worldwide, it was unquestionably a bad look for the game.

The Second Test against Pakistan was the shortest Test in England since 1987 largely due to bad light and rain, which made for any meaningful result to be virtually impossible i.e. Pakistan couldn't win the series. It's not the rain that people had a problem with, it will rain in England, that's a part of English life, but it's the issue of bad light that forced players off the field and the seemingly lack of urgency to get the players back on after rain and light delays.

Bad light is one of cricket’s long standing issues, but with state of the art flood lights in all test grounds in the country this should no longer be the case, but time after time we see the dreaded light meter come out and off the players go!

In recent times, floodlights have been used to extend play, however as soon the artificial light is more prominent than the natural light, play is once again suspended. You try explaining to someone who doesn't watch cricket, that when the floodlights (which cost millions of pounds to erect by the way) start doing what they’re intended to, the players have to stop playing. The only answer is simply “That’s Cricket”

For the game of cricket to solve a problem like ‘bad light’ it first needs to have a change in mentality! When I say cricket needs a mentality change, I mean they need to get rid of the old past notion of, it was successful then, so this is how it should still be done!

Now, with the increased use of protective equipment, especially the helmet, compared to say cricket in the 80’s, and coupled with multi million pound floodlights, is it unreasonable to think that maybe the rules should have changed to reflect this?

Well, you’d think so, however it’s gone the other way! Even with these advancements in technology, up until 2010, umpires would consult with the batsmen if they were comfortable with the light and whether they would like to continue. However, ‘bad light’ now, has come under the absolute discretion of the umpire regardless of how well the batsmen is seeing the ball and it's now up to a light meter which can be picked up on Amazon for twenty quid! Is this Health & Safety gone mad?

I fully appreciate the argument & the main reason for umpires stopping the game for ‘bad light’ is for the perceived safety of the players but that’s why the protective equipment is in place and why so much safety emphasis has already been put onto the game, but when you get down to it, cricket is just a dangerous sport, regardless of whether it’s glorious sunshine or gloomy and miserable. Regardless of time of day or the weather, if you face Jofra Archer it will be dangerous, just ask Steve Smith who almost got his head taken off by an Archer bouncer in 30+ degrees sun. There will always be dangers in sport and especially in cricket, but just get on with it!

Another option to potentially solve the bad light issues is the colour of the ball.In Test Match Cricket traditionally a red wine coloured ball is used. These balls are apparently significantly harder to see in gloomy weather as well as under the floodlights, Enter the Pink Ball, the pink ball was first used in 2015 in a day night test in Adelaide.

The idea of this was to allow test matches to start later and thus play on later with the hope of attracting the after work crowds. Since 2015 the pink ball has only been seen once in England, even though England has problems with the light more than most countries.

What I'm suggesting is ... use a pink ball for matches where the forecast perhaps isn't great or even swap out to the pink ball when the light is bad,before going back to the traditional ball when the light has improved. Lastly another feasible option is to be flexible with start times.

At the moment Test Matches religiously start at 11:00am like it was written in the commandments regardless of any weather forecast. How about considering adjusting these start times around weather forecasts to allow for maximum play in a day, similar to what they do in Golf where tee off times are adjusted around the weather. Travel arrangements are often cited as a reason why this is not possible but while there are no fans in the ground and while players are living in a bubble within the stadium, then there would seem to never be a better time for trialling flexible start times.

To me it seems the answer to cricket's light problems are pretty simple: a good degree of flexibility coupled with a good dose of common sense. Given that Cricket is about as flexible as a steel rod and that common sense isn't that common at all, I fear that given how long the debate about ‘bad light’ has been going on for, one thing seems certain: it won't be solved any time soon.

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