Cricket: Glow of approval from Old Trafford

David Llewellyn canvasses opinion on Lancashire's attempt to broaden the game's appeal with a floodlit game
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The Independent Online
An incident early on in this day-night match of four quarters summed up the mood of the crowd at Old Trafford and at least one player, Darren Lehmann. Yorkshire's Australian batsman was down on the third-man boundary, with Peter Hartley coming in from the Stretford End.

In a spare moment between deliveries Lehmann swapped his floppy sun hat for a supporter's knotted handkerchief. It was a crowd-pleaser and it raised a laugh, setting the tone as far as crowd was concerned.

It was ideal, too, as far as Lancashire were concerned, since the whole idea was to try to broaden the appeal of the game. It got the vote of one Lancashire member, Mike Moore, who had brought a coachload from Morecambe, 70 miles away.

"It's something new," Mr Moore said, "and if it brings new people into the game, then perhaps they will start to come to watch proper cricket, the County Championship, Sunday League and so on."

That it was billed as a friendly - if a Roses match can ever be described as such - did not bother Mr Moore.

"It's a bit of fun," he said. "It doesn't matter who wins, as long as Lancashire don't lose. With a bit of razzmatazz thrown in, there is a good atmosphere. The floodlights make it quite dramatic and the new format is a good idea."

He was backed up by Andrew Speed, a Yorkshire member from Rotherham. But he felt that floodlights could be used in a current domestic competition. "It's a very good idea," Mr Speed said, "and I think it could be used to some success in the Sunday League. They could start later and allow more people to get to the matches."

The whole showpiece has been underwritten by Mohan Kripalani, a businessman who has forked out close to pounds 40,000 for the lighting and also paid for the security. The only income Lancashire can expect, since they have not charged Mr Kripalani for the hire of Old Trafford, will come from catering sources. Gate receipts and hospitality box fees go to the promoter.

The hope is that it will attract more people to the game. David Edmundson, the Lancashire cricket secretary, explained: "We need to push back the barriers of traditionalism in the game. We need to kindle interest among people who would never have gone anywhere near a game of cricket before."

Of course, the idea has been tried before. Lancashire even won a floodlit competition in 1981, although that was staged at five football grounds.

Somerset staged one during Viv Richards' benefit season in the mid-1980s, while just up the road at Gigg Lane in Bury in 1954 an England XI captained by Cyril Washbrook took on a Commonwealth XI led by Sir Frank Worrell. They also used a white ball, but although England won, the consensus was that it would never take off.

For the stattos, yesterday's effort was the first to be played by two first-class counties on a Test ground, and it was the first time the split format has been applied in this country. It was adopted to ensure that both teams played in daylight and under lights. Lancashire batted for 25 overs in afternoon sunshine, Yorkshire followed, then Lancashire returned to finish off their innings. It certainly helped to maintain the interest.

The one crass element was the poor man on the public address system. Armed with his radio microphone he tackled the batsman as they left the square after being dismissed, which is rather like sticking your head in a lion's mouth and waiting until it bites. Which is what happened when Mike Watkinson, the Lancashire captain, was walking off after being bowled by Craig White.

Matt Procter, the man with the mike, asked him: "What was that then? A big swing across the line?" A less than gruntled Watkinson retorted: "Oh you're a coach as well now are you?" Perhaps he was thinking of the pounds 2,500 man-of-the-match award which was there for the taking, together with pounds 7,500 for the winning team.

No matter. This was more than a friendly, it was a serious experiment to try to generate interest into what many feel is a dying game. There were close on 4,500 - a lot more than showed up for the pre-season friendlies between the two sides. If Lancashire. and one or two others, notably Surrey, Sussex and Warwickshire, have their way, this could be the future for cricket.