On the Front Foot: Pink balls and bad lights – why night Tests remain a daydream

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The Independent Online

Steeling ourselves for it as we are being encouraged to do, it is still impossible to imagine Test cricket at night. In the past few days the International Cricket Council, understandably anxious to be seen to be doing something, promoted the idea on two fronts. They wheeled out their two biggest guns, chairman David Morgan in London and chief executive Haroon Lorgat in Johannesburg. The consensus to be gleaned from their briefings was that Tests under lights using pink balls would be played within two years. Maybe, maybe not. While it is the biggest single initiative aimed at securing the future of Test cricket, it would also change the shape of the game forever. At present, it is the floodlights – as well as the pink balls – that may not be fit for purpose, with many lights around the world being of insufficient standard. Lorgat said: "It would be wrong for us to stand by and do nothing. What we must do is try – by not trying we would be failing in our duty to the game." He is a thoughtful administrator who also does not think Test cricket is as threatened as some observers opine. But to be at Centurion on Friday for what was indubitably a big game was to bring it fully into perspective. There were barely 2,000 people in the ground.

Time for four-day games?

The ICC have appointed a panel to come up with possible innovations for Test matches. Their deliberations will include a possible Test championship which should not be beyond the wit of man – or even cricket administrators – to organise but should not be seen as a panacea. Given that many Tests are won early or draws from a long way out, they might consider four-day matches with 100 overs each a day. Those who object to this as heresy might like to remember that the period of Test matches was not always five days. There have been many timeless Tests, even series (1928-29 in Australia had four Tests of more than five days). The most famous was at Durban between England and South Africa 70 years ago. It lasted 10 days but spanned 12 because there were two Sunday rest days. It was not eventually timeless because England had to dash for their boat home 45 runs short of victory. But it must have been quite difficult for Len Hutton, who played in that match, to think he was playing the same form of the game when he played New Zealand 10 years later in Test matches lasting three days.

Putting a spin on pitches

Pitches make suckers of us all. The first question at the eve-of-Test press conference was asked by Jonathan Agnew, the BBC's estimable correspondent, to Graeme Smith, South Africa's captain. Having seen the state of the wicket, green and yucky, Agnew wondered if Smith might bother playing a spinner. Smith said he was 99 per cent sure he would. And when the match began, spinners were in much demand, Graeme Swann bowling 45 of England's overs and taking five wickets, Paul Harris putting England under the cosh.

England must get better

No column would be complete without referring to referrals. They are here to stay. Everybody should simply get on with it – and in England's case learn to use the system better.