(ESPNcricinfo) England will play their first day-night Test match at home next year, the ECB has confirmed. The first Test of West Indies’ tour, at Edgbaston on August 17-21, will be contested under lights with a pink ball in a move designed to try and increase attendances and drive interest in the oldest form of the game.
Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, said it was worth experimenting in order to try and “make cricket more accessible to new audiences”. So far, the only Test played under lights with a pink ball was between Australia and New Zealand at Adelaide last November, although a second, between Pakistan and West Indies in the UAE, will take place this month. Another two are scheduled for the forthcoming Australian summer.
“It’s a great opportunity to build on a lot of the thinking and the strategy that has been going on for the last 12 months,” Harrison said. “It’s been all about new audiences and doing all we could to make the game more accessible at every level, and this gives us an opportunity to find out if Test cricket played at a different time of day, under certain conditions, in a city centre at a time of year where people possibly don’t get to go to the all day game – we’ll see if that has a dramatic impact on attendance.
“It’s also outside London, so there’s more opportunity to see an impact of day-night cricket. England historically love playing at Edgbaston, it’s a great venue. We are taking an open and hopeful view and are expectant that it will have an impact on our market as we look to make cricket more accessible to new audiences.”
Harrison added it was important to “embrace opportunities when they come”. Warwickshire held a trial in a 2nd XI game in August, which was deemed a success despite some issues with the deterioration of the pink ball (both Dukes and Kookaburra varieties). The club were unable to hold further tests in a first-class match but, with tickets due to go on sale next week, they have agreed to take the plunge for next summer.
“Bringing day-night Test cricket to England is an innovative and very exciting development for the game, and we’re thrilled that Edgbaston will be the first venue to host a match played in this format,” Neil Snowball, Warwickshire’s chief executive, said.
“Edgbaston staged the UK’s first day-night domestic match in 1997 and has a great history of hosting and selling out some of the biggest fixtures in the game. In turn, the Edgbaston atmosphere and match-day experience has become iconic, with England having a fantastic record of victories here.”
Playing hours for the Test have been provisionally scheduled from 2pm until 9pm, with the final session set to take place under floodlights as the sun goes down. Dukes will continue to supply the ball; those used in the 2nd XI match at Edgbaston, in contrast to the Kookaburra version, featured a dark seam.
“I’m sure it will drive some new thinking in the way that tickets are sold and I’m sure it will have an impact on the ability of families to come and watch cricket,” Harrison said. “It’s a sincere drive and strategy to make cricket as accessible as possible, particularly for young people. To create a Test cricket audience among young people.”
Cricket Australia has been the board most enthusiastic about day-night Tests and it is likely that the 2017-18 Ashes could feature a pink-ball game – although the current captains, Alastair Cook and Steven Smith, have expressed reservations. “It’s useful to have one before we go to Australia,” Harrison said. “Giving guys the chance to play with a pink ball under lights, before an Ashes Test in similar conditions. It’s a good opportunity to stick a stake in the ground to say we are keen to innovate.”
Player concerns about the conditions required to keep the pink ball from deteriorating were a feature of the Adelaide Test, where an unusually grassy surface was prepared and the match was over inside three days. Harrison said the ECB was “comfortable with the development of the ball”, which has been tested extensively by the MCC – who first proposed the idea – notably in the Champion County match at the start of the English season.
He added that the England and West Indies players had been assured they will be given opportunities to prepare for playing under lights. West Indies’ third three-day tour match, which takes place in Derby the week before the first Test, will be played as a day-night match.
“Players have taken some time to get around this,” Harrison said. “It’s not a new concept in terms of global international cricket and many boards are looking at ways to introduce this and as they have gone down this journey they have looked at all the things that need to come together, like lux levels at grounds, local council approval, public transport. They are all different in the day-night scenario. There is a bit more work to do, but we can start to get excited.
“I’m sure we will convert those who are less than convinced about it. We will work hard to make sure we are not treading on traditions here. In London we put a Test match on and it sells out. Outside London it’s not as simple as that. Maybe this helps bring in some of those new communities that haven’t been to Edgbaston before. There will be a lot of marketing about, in a very busy summer for us across all formats.”
With inputs from Will Macpherson in Dhaka
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick