ICC throws new light on old problem

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The pressures of popularising the game in a competitive market place have forced the International Cricket Council to use floodlights to end what most see as cricket's biggest turn-off for spectators: "Bad light stopped play."

Yesterday's annual meeting at Lord's, a good one for the game's progressives, if not its pragmatists, also decided to broaden the scope of television replays to include catches, a move that many will see as further weakening the power of the umpire.

"Providing both countries agree before a Test series, artificial lighting may be turned on in conditions of adverse natural light to assist play to continue within the normal hours of play," David Richards, the ICC's chief executive, said.

The rule will, in theory at least, prevent the frustrating situations such as the one that arose at Edgbaston in 1992 when England played - or more accurately did not play - against Pakistan. After a first day washout, just two balls were bowled on day two before the batsmen came off for bad light.

Then, a single ball's play meant no refund, a clause the England and Wales Cricket Board have now amended. At the time though, the public's patience snapped and there were ugly scenes as spectators forced there way into the England dressing-room seeking justice.

However, before the paying public gets over-excited, one or two logistical problems exist, not least that all cricket grounds possessing permanent floodlights are to be found overseas. As bad light tends to impinge far less there, the ruling has something of the whiff of a red herring about it as far as home matches are concerned. Nevertheless, the ICC will consider the practicality of day/night Tests more strongly at next year's meeting.

Apparently, it is the twin effects of a prolonged dusk and an early evening dew that prevents night cricket being viable in England. If that is so, ground authorities are unlikely to install expensive lighting on the slight chance that some heavy black clouds might blow over.

In any case, if floodlights could be shipped in for Test matches - Lancashire will be trying out mobile floodlights in a 40-over game next Monday at Old Trafford - they will not be effective unless a white ball is used with black screens, or the traditional white sightscreens can be illuminated without too much glare.

Far more pressing, and sensible, is the ICC's wish to have the volume of international cricket regulated. Last year, 41 Tests and 101 limited- over internationals were played around the world. Although, Richards said it was an issue that should be raised with the various cricketing boards as "a matter of priority," the ICC still offered its own yardstick.

"The consensus," Richards continued, "is that each country should play no more than 10 to 12 Tests and 25 to 30 one-day internationals per annum. The programme should ideally include an eight-week break to allow players to mentally recharge and overcome minor injuries."

Yet if England's year is taken from last December to this, including the limited-over tournament in Sharjah, they will have played 11 Tests and a possible 15 one-dayers. While the one-day tally is way below the guideline, the Test count is not, a balance few but the marketing men will want to alter.

Like the use of floodlights, extending the role of television replays and third umpires to include catches is also something that will be met with scepticism despite its endorsement by the current Test captains who met last Friday. In the wake of the controversial slip catch that Nasser Hussain claimed off Greg Blewett at Old Trafford, a catch the square leg umpire ruled out, technology has been allowed to run wild.

As anyone possessing both patience and a TV set will tell you, the replay evidence was not categorical. Indeed it took Sky's technicians a day and a half to magnify and freeze-frame the pixillated picture, before pronouncing the catch had fallen a micron short of Hussain's fingers.

Given such deliberation, Test cricket will need floodlights simply to fit in the extra TV replays which every umpire, fearing trial by couch potatoes, is bound to call for. But while fewer wrong decisions may give players added peace of mind, it will not give the rest of us much to talk about.