'Stop Tests from withering'

2012-01-10 13:01

Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - Selective instances of night-time Test cricket might be as little as a year away, as a means of preserving the sometimes embattled format.

That is the view of former England batsman John Stephenson, the MCC’s Head of Cricket.

Stephenson, 46, who also had a stint with Boland some two decades back, was speaking to Sport24 after a media briefing at Newlands which followed a two-day meeting of the MCC World Cricket Committee in the city.

The committee, an independent voice in world cricket, gathers twice annually, and its debates and recommendations are made in the interests of the game and its players.

It includes such luminary names as Mike Brearley (chairperson), Steve Bucknor, Rahul Dravid, Andy Flower, Courtney Walsh, Steve Waugh and South Africans Barry Richards and Shaun Pollock.

Asked which parts of the planet might be best suited to night-time Test activity, Stephenson said: “I think some parts of New Zealand at the right time of the year; we were exploring New Zealand versus Zimbabwe in Hamilton at the end of January.

“That would have been a good one for a day/night Test. You’d have got a lot of the local community out at night and conditions might have been sublime, I’m told - not too much dew, warm, good floodlights.

“We also know that Abu Dhabi has wonderful conditions for day/night cricket at certain times of the year. The West Indies could also be a great place for it, re-invigorating attendances there. India and Pakistan are also set up for it in places, although there’s a dew factor to contemplate.

“But we’re not quite there yet. The Hamilton game only ever reached ‘preliminary discussion’ level; I talked about it with the New Zealand authorities. They feel they’re not quite ready yet.

“Maybe in two years, or even 12 months ... we don’t quite know the time scale. What I don’t want to see is Test cricket withering. We have to do everything we can to revitalise it without compromising traditional values.”

Stephenson said a first-class “trial run” game was required as a logical first step, but even this presented some snags at present.

“We were looking at a Hamilton match of that kind in November, but it’s quite cold then, and you might have had a negative backlash as a result. You’ve got to be very careful how you prepare these things, how you replicate the concept before it actually happens.

“In the UK I don’t think it’s particularly relevant at the moment ... we get fantastic Test attendances in the traditional daytime. At Lord’s we don’t need it: we can sell out Tests without having to introduce enhancements.

“It’s about boosting bums on seats where necessary and marketing the game of Test cricket.”

He agreed that in South Africa, certain interior venues might be best suited - Newlands, like Lord’s and the MCG in Australia, retains healthy daytime Test interest, with Cricket South Africa revealing to Sport24 that almost 50 000 people passed through the gates for the four-day New Year Test featuring moderate drawcards Sri Lanka.

“Yes, I think that’s right; you’ve really got to do your homework. I’ve played at Newlands where the clouds come over at night and it starts to swing - I’ve also played in the Free State at night where the braai smoke swirls over the pitch and it creates different (problems).

“You’ve got to make sure the specific venue will work for it before you take the plunge.”

Stephenson is also at the forefront of experimentation initiatives with a pink ball, for possible deployment in floodlit Tests.

Does he fear such innovations might only drive Test traditionalists further away from the game?

“There’s always that threat. I know at Lord’s there was a certain fear we were taking the game away from its traditional format. We’re not, at all. We have the interests and protection of Test cricket right at the top of our agenda.

“We believe in retaining it as a game played in whites, for instance. That’s why we have to consider the different ball. We don’t want a huge departure from tradition.

“It’s a balancing act. It’s an option for member countries to have up their sleeves if they feel desperate about selling Test cricket.”

The MCC committee affirmed its support for the idea of making more room in the calendar for Tests, and expressed “disappointment that the icon series between England and South Africa later this year will comprise only three Tests”.

Stephenson told Sport24: “It’s complex this (English) summer. West Indies are also coming over (ahead of the Proteas) so we can only fit so many Tests into the schedule.

“You’ve got a point that two Tests against West Indies and four versus South Africa might have been a better solution for the public based on current (balance of power) but you’ve got to consider the sensitivities of the West Indies, the other tourists coming over.

“I don’t think two-Test series between anyone are a satisfactory state of affairs, to be honest. England versus West Indies also used to be a five-Test series, so three has probably got to be a minimum there.

“Despite that it will be an amazing series - at least we’ll have three, rather than the two you recently had against Australia here, which left everyone clearly hankering for more.

“We’ve also got the 2012 Olympics which has made squeezing all the fixtures in a tough proposition. Had it not been the Olympics I’m sure it would have a fuller series against the South Africans; that’s created an exclusion period around London.”

He described being at Newlands as a “nostalgic” experience.

“It’s my second favourite ground after Lord’s. I was lucky enough to make my first ever first-class hundred here for Boland against Western Province B (in the strong former Castle Bowl competition) in 1989. That was a great moment for me.”


  • Shirley - 2012-01-10 13:52

    This sounds like a good idea. It also affords the people who would like to attend the tests but have to work an oppertunity to do so. I believe they will be using a pink ball but still have to iron out some background and advertising bord kinks.

  • Morne - 2012-01-10 15:16

    How about cutting down on that other useless 20-over format if you want to 'preserve' test cricket?

      Thomas - 2012-01-10 21:35

      Agreed Morne, it doesn't say much for the 20/20 when the old guys who have retired or discarded from test cricket walk in and shine!!!

      Staal - 2012-01-10 23:18

      @Thomasn - That has caught my attention as well. They can definitely cut down on both ODIs and T20s. I still think it is a travesty we only played 5 Tests last year. There was an article today (can't remember where) that said the reason we got 3 Tests against England in June was because of the Olympics and the WI having to get 3. They daren't cut down the WI Tests to 2 because they are "sensitive" about it! The WI?! No one seemed to concerned about our sensitivities and 2 Tests against Australia.

  • Neil - 2012-01-10 15:39

    barry has not been a south African for a long time

      Phil - 2012-01-10 16:02

      "barry has not been a south African for a long time " How do you make that out ?

  • Sarel van Deventer - 2012-01-10 16:48

    get more sponsors, golf dont need huge crowds because of sponsors

  • Peet - 2012-01-10 17:41

    I can already see "tea time" changing to "braai time"!

  • Raymond - 2012-01-10 18:02

    I prefer the fifty overs and five day cricket to the twenty-twenty "biff and bang" format which I don't watch anyway, it is really a throw of the dice sport. Summer day/night games in SA can guarantee plenty of lightning & thunderstorms in the evening especially in Gauteng and Durban so there could be plenty of abandonment, frustrated spectators & sponsors. The timing would have to be right but I would still prefer to watch on TV at home, those lightening storms can be pretty scary.

  • chris83p - 2012-01-10 18:56

    Im 28yrs old and I am all for test cricket; its how the game was meant to be played; the ultimate test of bowler against batsman. I agree with Morne too much 20 over games! There are many alternatives in terms of ensuring the survival of "pure" test cricket without reverting to a pink ball or day/night test cricket; examples: blackouts, discounts to schools in the region etc etc.....

  • Brigitte - 2012-01-11 08:19

    I think a simple way of improving Test cricket would be to change when the new ball is due. At the moment there seems to be a lull of between 10-20 overs when teams reach a stalemate. The ball is too soft for both bowlers and batsmen. So, by offering the new ball at over 70 instead of over 80, we could do away with those 10 overs of stalemate.

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