In days past, a West Indies tour of England was one to cause a frisson of excitement among the fans, and a tremble of fear among the batsmen. How times have changed. The structure of international cricket; the concentration of power and money in the hands of the the three most powerful cricket boards; allied to the endless civil war in Caribbean cricket have weakened the game globally, and in the West Indies in particular. If South Africa aren’t able to get their best team on to the park because of the financial considerations of the players, then it’s less surprising than ever to see the shadow team that will show up on Thursday afternoon.
The corollary of this depressing state of affairs is that from a ticketing perspective, the Windies aren’t the draw they were, and to that end the scheduling of a day/night Test match at Edgbaston makes sense – the curiosity value alone makes it worth doing from a financial perspective. The popularity of day/night cricket has been well established in limited overs form, and the opportunity to see it in Test match mode has clearly piqued a lot of interest given the second day is already sold out, with days one and three possibly following. It’s certainly true that in other parts of the world they have proved popular, Adelaide in particular demonstrating that there is an appetite for starting later and making it a night out.
Where England have a particular problem is in the country’s latitude. The summer evenings tend to be cool, and occasionally downright cold, apart from during the peak summer months of June and July. But in June and July it doesn’t get dark until 10pm, meaning the night element would consist of slowly fading light and batsmen having nightmares about seeing the ball for more than the brief dusk that is prevalent in more equatorial climes. With the timetable for this one, had it been played in June, floodlights wouldn’t be needed on a sunny day.
With that in mind, holding a day/night Test during the slightly shorter days of August makes sense, though from the spectator perspective the likelihood is that coats and blankets are more likely to be needed than shorts and T-shirts, particularly given the longer format. That being said, the match isn’t scheduled to go especially late on each given day, meaning the night element will remain relatively short. The problem of a longer dusk is still there though, and pink ball or not, it will be interesting to see just how challenging the batting is likely to prove – the experimental county championship matches earlier in the season were rather ruined by rain in many cases.
There have only been a handful of day/night Tests so far, too few to form any kind of judgement on how they will differ (if at all) from “normal” matches. Certainly the first instance of it involved the ball hooping round corners and batting proving exceptionally difficult, but subsequent games didn’t continue that trend, as ball manufacturers constantly strived to ensure conditions would be as close to the default as possible. Equally, the different locations in which the matches have been held make passing judgement impossible, and it is this more than anything that provides the intrigue as to how this one will unfold.
The West Indies have played under lights once before, in the UAE, but conditions there are totally different at the best of times, and this will be the first match where a pink Duke’s ball (rather than a Kookaburra) is used. Given that tends to retain its shine longer, and offers a more pronounced seam, that could yet be interesting for the batsmen. The possibility of dew in the evening has been mentioned, but this applies only so much as it does in the mornings of late season games, and the bulk of the day will be played during the same hours as a normal Test. The question will be if conditions materially alter after tea.
Ah yes, tea. The breaks will retain their traditional names of lunch and tea despite being much later. Naturally this has attracted comment, but in truth it would have done had they changed it as well. In Australia the breaks were changed to tea and dinner, which is barely any better, and probably provides amusement to non-cricket supporters who will wonder which other sports have a break for dinner.
To the surprise of few, Keaton Jennings was dropped from the squad, replaced by Mark Stoneman, as the revolving door of England openers not called Cook continues. If luck in selection plays a part, then being called up to play the West Indies at home counts as being of the good variety, for it represents an opportunity to score rather easier runs than against South Africa or away in India. What that doesn’t do is answer the question as to whether a player is good enough to play in Australia, but given the mess England have got themselves in over selection for opener, the reality is they are where they are. It still wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone different opening in Brisbane.
Mason Crane has been called up, which raises questions about Adil Rashid’s future. England have developed a tendency in the specialist fields of seeking the finished article, discarding players for perceived failures rather than persevering with them. Rashid hasn’t been exceptional, that is certainly true, but nor has he been a flop – his performance in India was in line with many England spinners there over the years. Perhaps it might be that Crane is something special, but it’s hard to avoid the nagging doubt that whether or not he plays this time, his career will be one of high expectations and swift removal if he doesn’t win matches single handedly. As has been observed all too often, it’s debatable whether England would have kept faith with Shane Warne had he been English.
One player returning to the ranks is Chris Woakes, and depending on fitness can be expected to play given how important he has been over the last 12 months. That might be harsh on Toby Roland-Jones, but Woakes is clearly central to England’s first choice bowling line up. As long as he is properly fit, and not ECB fit.
The disparity in resources, wealth and playing strength really should make this a foregone conclusion, but the day/night nature of it means that it is a little more uncertain than might be the case. Whether it is a one off will depend on whether the game itself proceeds relatively normally.
Day/night Tests in England, in late August. Who the hell knows?