London: International Cricket Council (ICC) chiefs believe floodlit, day/night Tests could take place in the next few years but insist more work needs to be done on the ball before they give the go-ahead.
A traditional red leather ball is difficult to see under floodlights, while the white ball used for day/night one-day internationals doesn’t wear at the same rate and so is considered unsuitable for longer formats.
Finding a suitable ball has so far proved the key stumbling block, with Dave Richardson, the ICC’s general manager for cricket, telling reporters at Lord’s on Wednesday: “We’ve spent a lot of time over the last 24 months trying to develop a ball.
“Now we’ve crystallised that there’s not much difference between the pink and orange balls and it was a question of finding a ball that could retain its colour throughout 50-80 overs.”
Richardson was speaking after a two-day meeting of the ICC’s cricket committee at Lord’s, the self-styled ‘home of cricket’ and the headquarters of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), who are still responsible for the sport’s rules or laws.
Officials at MCC believe they have found a solution to the ball problem by developing a pink ball with a black seam.
This ball was used during their first-class match against England’s champion county, Nottinghamshire, in March — the traditional curtain-raiser to the English season which, for the second successive year, took place in the non-traditional setting of Abu Dhabi rather than Lord’s itself.
MCC are convinced the ball can last in Tests and former South Africa wicketkeeper Richardson said: “In the Abu Dhabi match it did but the conditions were fairly benign, the outfield was a good one, there was no dew and the balls stood up well.”
The dew factor was emphasised by ICC cricket committee chairman Clive Lloyd, the former West Indies captain, who said: “We were worried by the dew factor. If one side bowls at night, it could be with a bar of soap.”
Richardson said: “We decided we needed further trailing in multi-day competitions,” adding he hoped the pink ball would be used in at least one round of first-class tournaments such as England’s County Championship or Australia’s Sheffield Shield during the next 12 months.
“If the reports coming back are that the ball keeps its condition and colour then I think we will be in a position this time next year to select a couple of venues and trial a day/night Test.
“The venue still needs to have decent lights, somewhere like Lord’s, Sydney or Abu Dhabi. You also need to play it at a venue, and time of year, where dew isn’t going to come in. You can have the best ball in the world but it would be unfair in those conditions.”
With audiences for Test cricket declining in recent years outside of traditional heartlands such as England, floodlit matches have been suggested as a way of bolstering crowds for the five-day game.
But Richardson said: “I’m not as pessimistic as some when it comes to needing to save Test cricket. I do think it (day/night Tests) affords boards the opportunity to play Test cricket when more people are available to watch and also commercially it can be more valuable to play at those times of the day — the prime viewing time in the evening.”
Asked if the first day/night Test would take place by 2014, Richardson replied: “I would hope before then.”