England feeling their way in day-night game

England's cricketers still look to be on thin ice when they are playing under floodlights. Actually, given the choice of unusual conditions, they would probably select thin ice as being more trustworthy and this coming summer, when the first three day-night international matches are played in England, they may have to contend with both.

England's cricketers still look to be on thin ice when they are playing under floodlights. Actually, given the choice of unusual conditions, they would probably select thin ice as being more trustworthy and this coming summer, when the first three day-night international matches are played in England, they may have to contend with both.

Their continuing twilight uncertainties, especially when batting second, as they have been forced to do twice in this triangular tournament, are caused largely by unfamiliarity. While it is 21 years since they played the first floodlit one-dayer, in Australia, they have never been regularly exposed to the form. Each new team has to begin the learning process all over again.

This does not quite excuse some of the fielding errors or plain awful shots, but it would help their mindset if they could win a toss, bat first and watch the opposition struggle to adjust. Nasser Hussain, the England captain, has not made a single excuse for his side all winter and is not about to start now, so his observations about lights can be trusted.

"There is an advantage batting first," he said. "But I've lost four tosses in a row, it would be nice to win one." This does not explain England's poor cricket after 7pm, sometimes going about their business as though they are in the dark. But if, for example, they were to lose the toss on Friday against South Africa and again have to bowl in the afternoon, bat in the evening, it would probably gnaw at their soul.

It is commendable that the England and Wales Cricket Board has at last permitted the playing of these games and surprising in many ways that it has taken up the baton so soon. There might not have been time, after all, since 28 November 1979 for the proposal in favour to go through every committee and working party.

It was on that date at Sydney that England batted first against the omnipotent West Indies, then world champions, and won a rain-affected tie by two runs. It was a thriller and led to changes in the rules. With a ball left, West Indies needed three to win and Mike Brearley, England's captain, responded by putting all the fielders, including wicketkeeper, David Bairstow, on the boundary. The authorities soon put a stop to that sort of caper.

Still, the ECB has obviously embraced day-nighters now. Its mobile lights will be transported along the motorways of England next summer between Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester. In South Africa (not to mention Australia) they do things differently. All the main grounds and some of the minor ones are bathed in the shadows cast by light pylons.

Driving through the charming, old Eastern Province town of Graaff-Reinet yesterday one of the first sights was a lovely, lush cricket square. It was bounded by a graceful wooden pavilion and rows of lights. Since it stands close to a daunting place known as the Valley of Desolation there must be hope for cricket grounds everywhere.

The ECB wants to be sure that the night game has a future before it encourages clubs to erect their own lights, as Sussex have done already. It will not be an easy sell because there is only a month when floodlit cricket and England are conducive. Otherwise, it is too cold or too damp. Covered arenas would be too expensive and revolutionary.

To ensure it gets it right, the ECB has sent out its own man to investigate how the South Africans do things. Dominic van den Bergh, the marketing services manager, will no doubt bring back tales of musical interludes, sky divers and novelty raffles. Hang on, haven't they been on the go in England already?

If you hear "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival or "Daydream Believer" by The Monkees on English grounds next summer, you can assume that the Van den Bergh report has been accepted. Additionally, if during the break between innings, the crowd are encouraged to throw on to the playing area rubber composition cricket balls they bought cheaply at the ground and on which they wrote their name, and some of these balls are picked out at random by a skydiver as winners, then he has also been taking copious notes.

These are all lively ideas but it is hard to see the British public being encouraged to take along huge barbecue grills. It is important to remember, too, that they are only ancillaries.

What one-day cricket needs above all is close games with runs, plenty of them accumulated in an entertaining manner. Slogged, maybe, but there is no more instantly attractive part of the game. The Standard Bank Series has not had them so far, 210 being the top score. And if it does not get them it may be important to remind the last spectator to leave to turn off the lights.

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