The County Championship made its first foray into the dark – but...

The County Championship made its first foray into the dark – but were we tickled pink?

The experimental round of day/night County Championship games is done. DEC's Scott Hunt had a chat with a few people to see how they felt about it.

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Leicestershire were amongst those to play day/night cricket this week. Photo © Luke Adams

County cricket has just completed its first ever round of day/night Championship fixtures. Featuring floodlights and a pink ball rather than red was always going to provide a vast number of talking points and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

But how did it actually go? Is it worth sticking with and what does it mean for the future of the longer forms of the game?

Here we examine what some are calling cricket’s stab in the dark and consider how the concept actually played out.

Why is day/night cricket happening?

Let’s be clear straight away, the County Championship isn’t leading the way in day/night cricket, nor was this innovation designed to aid the competition. This round of fixtures played under floodlights was primarily scheduled to allow England players to get used to the pink ball ahead of their first ever day/night Test at Edgbaston later this summer.

The Championship was therefore something of a Guinea Pig to allow the international stars to acclimatise.

But that’s not to say that there weren’t potential benefits for the domestic game, with many particularly interested to see whether games starting at 2pm would encourage crowds to grow for the evening session when many could come in after work – often free of charge.

Did the crowds grow?

Deep Extra Cover’s Bradley Adams watched Hampshire v Somerset at the Ageas Bowl: “On Day One, Hampshire reported around 1,300 through the gate before 7pm, at which point entry became free of charge.

“Around 100-200 people entered after that time, but there wasn’t a visible increase and it was clear that a number of spectators left, meaning that it evened itself out as the evening progressed.

“There were a couple of hundred in on the second day but that didn’t have a chance to improve given we went off for rain at 2.52pm and never came back.”

And DEC’s Ciaran Thomas also reported on a similar story at Wantage Road where Northamptonshire took on Leicestershire:

“On Day One we had a larger-than-normal crowd for a Northants game but numbers didn’t seem to massively swell after 5pm, probably peaking around that time and then thinning out as the evening went on, to the point that a large majority had left by the time we finished – shortly after 9pm.

“Certainly there was no sign of a big after work turn out, even with a mild evening, and perhaps the earlier larger crowd was due to the novelty and curiosity about the pink ball.

“The crowd since has been awful, but then the weather probably has quite a large say in that. Plus finishing 9.30 – 10pm four days in a row does make for rather a long week.”

What is it like to watch?

Much of the speculation around these matches has focused on the visibility of the pink ball, primarily for the players but also for the crowds. Cricket is, we shouldn’t forget, a spectator sport.

In particular it was interesting to see whether the pink ball was easily detectable in the period between daylight fading and the floodlights taking over.

Ciaran Thomas: “I’ve found the new ball, both during daylight and under lights, has been fine to see. It glows and stands out pretty well, however the issue is when it’s getting older and it has proved harder to pick out in daylight/early evening.”

Bradley Adams: “Seeing the ball on the opening day, even when the lights came on and the evening was getting later, was generally pretty fine.

“On the third day, however, under very dark skies and without the floodlights on, the 30-odd over old ball was very difficult to see from behind the bowler’s arm, both out of the hand and across the outfield.

“That was around 6pm. Harder to see when it’s had the shine taken off, which doesn’t seem to take a huge amount of time.”

What do those involved think?

The ECB has said that it won’t decide on whether to play another round of these day/night fixtures in 2018 until they have received feedback from player and coaches on what they thought of the innovation this week.

Hampshire’s Liam Dawson believes that there needs to be more focus placed on the ball being used.

“If you are going to keep on using those balls then you are going to get some pretty boring cricket – it just goes very soft, very quickly,” Dawson said.

His opponent Craig Overton was also less than enthusiastic about the pink ball, saying: “The ball was strange. It swings and then goes really soft. It didn’t really do much.”

It seemed that the ball was the main consideration of the views expressed, particularly at the Ageas Bowl but also across other grounds.

“I can just go with what the boys say and they say the ball does go soft. It doesn’t sound like a cricket ball, it sounds like an indoor ball when it hits the bat,” Hampshire Coach Craig White said.

“It’s hard to time and it just feels very soft on the bat when you hit it.”

But White also picked up on the visibility issue from his position observing his team.

“I’m not sure what it’s like for the spectators but I find it hard to follow along the ground. I guess the spectators feel the same about that, you don’t know where the ball’s going so that’s another thing to take into consideration.”

What’s happened to the scores?

In truth, glancing around the scoreboards you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that this was any different to a regular Championship round.

There was a run-fest at Chelmsford, featuring a record-breaking opening stand of 373 between Alastair Cook and Nick Browne, while there were fairly low-scoring matches between Glamorgan and Derbyshire and Hampshire and Somerset.

Weather hasn’t helped by any means, disrupting most matches and wiping some out, including the clash between Yorkshire and Surrey.

Are there any other talking points?

Aside from the obvious changes of a ball and the light conditions, the changes to playing time and conditions throws up some more obscure issues.

For instance, with intervals coming at 4pm and 6.40pm, there has been much discussion around what to call them as well as more logistical issues.

Bradley Adams: “I’m a little unsure as to why we have the long interval first and the shorter one second. Surely, it would make more sense to have 20 minutes at 4pm and then 40 minutes at the second interval where the players and spectators could have a decent amount of time to eat.

“Also, we heard there were no restaurants open past 4.40pm (aka end of interval 1) at the Ageas on the opening day. Obviously not necessarily to do with the cricket itself but something that grounds would need to keep in mind.”

So, is this a good thing?

There were always going to be teething problems with a change such as this, one which is almost entirely new to four-day cricket in this country.

It seems in particular there are things to iron out with regards to the ball itself, both its visibility and the way it lasts throughout an 80-over stint.

Bradley Adams: “I think the format is a good idea but there are kinks that need working out. Most importantly, the ball, which goes soft after not much use and then isn’t great coming off the bat.”

Ciaran Thomas: “From what I’ve seen this week, and it seems a fairly similar story across the country, the expected influx of crowds after work hasn’t happened. But the weather hasn’t helped. I certainly don’t think it’s worth ditching straight away and if it’s going to work at Test level, perhaps one round a year isn’t the worst idea going forward.”

With the first Day/Night Test involving England coming up in August and a general push at international level to give day/night Tests a go, it seems likely that this isn’t the last we will see of day/night Championship matches.

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