England's chances of avoiding series defeat fading with the light

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The Independent Online

On England's last visit to Pakistan, they won the series in a gripping finale by playing on in the dark. By the end the only bat that could have located the ball with any certainty was a nocturnal mammal and there was an obvious, though short-lived opening for a smart entrepreneur to market helmets with Davy Lamps.

There may have to be a re-enactment (lamps presumably already unpacked given current attention to detail) if the tourists are somehow to win the third Test of this rubber, the only outcome that would prevent their first series defeat in 18 months. Since Pakistan will be batting last and will not remotely risk the 1-0 lead they took in winning the first Test so narrowly, and since the batting side holds all the aces when the issue of playing on in poor light is determined, the scenario is distinctly improbable.

England are not out of it, but they were not wholly in it either when for the 11th day out of 12 in the series, bad light brought proceedings to a close before the scheduled overs were completed (on the other day, the fifth of the first Test, Pakistan won). Altogether 120 overs have now been forfeited. It will be small comfort to either side, though particularly to England, that a change of playing conditions to matches in Pakistan is likely soon.

Playing in this country is a little like playing international cricket in England would be just before the clocks go back in the autumn. The temperature is slightly higher, though jumpers are recommended for any lengthy afternoon spell outdoors.

But there is dampness in the air and dew on the grass in the morning which precludes starting play before 10am here in Lahore. The sun begins to go down rapidly after 4pm and the finishing time on the first two days has been 4.30pm.

The floodlights here at the Gaddafi Stadium do not help because of the red ball. Village cricketers would complain that the 4.30pm light is what they have to put up with regularly but not with Stephen Harmison bowling ripsnorters just short of a length, as he was yesterday.

Malcolm Speed, the chief executive of the International Cricket Council who is at the match, said: "I think it is a peculiarly Pakistan problem. Perhaps the solution is to go to six-day Tests at this time of year in Pakistan. If it were to be suggested by the Pakistan Board I'm sure serious consideration would be given by the other members."

Shaharyar Khan, the PCB chairman, confirmed that he would be making the request. "Our season is between October and April because it would be unfair to ask visiting teams to play in the extreme heat of summer. So we will be going back to the ICC."

Shortened days do not inevitably mean draws. Most are (but then that was traditionally the case because of the slow pitches found out here), but three of the last 10 played in Lahore in the last three months of the year have produced a winner.

The position is not helped by teams' reluctance to bowl the scheduled overs in the allocated time. They use the regulation rather as Geoffrey Boycott sometimes used an affirmative call for a run: a basis for negotiation. Boycott actually has firm ideas on playing hours.

Never mind six days. In the annual Cowdrey Lecture which he delivered last July he called for Test matches to be played over four days with 105 overs per day.

"Life has changed. We move at a much faster pace. People don't have time for a five-day cricket match," he said. As England might be by Saturday evening, he was whistling in the dark.

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