Australia v New Zealand, 3rd Test, Adelaide November 26, 2015

From dawn till dusk

The long road to the first day-night Test is also a history of cricket's often fraught relationship with commerce

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Chappell: "Always felt WSC should have separate category"

Cricket's first ball under lights was bowled by Imran Khan to Rick McCosker on December 14, 1977. It was a practice match between the Australia and World XI teams of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, on a drop-in pitch at Waverley Park, a football stadium.

Oddly for a breakaway competition fuelled by a dispute over broadcast rights, this match was not actually televised, acting as a dry run for a match between the same two teams on January 23, 1978. Therefore that game has gone down in history as the dawn of the day-night era, with Len Pascoe and Barry Richards immortalised as the first combatants to cross paths in artificial light.

"For a start the light wasn't great, so it was apprehension," Richards remembers of facing Pascoe. "You don't know what to expect, you go out there thinking, let's just try to get over the first 20 minutes and see what happens, because it was all quite new. The dusk period wasn't great. Apprehension and survival were the things going through my mind - even if you do get out, make it look normal!"

Pascoe had been enduring difficulties bowling no-balls, and as such made a nervy approach to the wicket. His efforts to keep behind the crease line were unsuccessful, and also contributed to a short ball spearing down the leg side. In the commentary box, Bill Lawry observed: "And the first ball under lights in the history of Australian cricket is a no-ball..."

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Day-night cricket brought crowds to WSC in numbers that tilted the cricket war strongly away from the establishment. But it was not without its hiccups. A match during the second season was running long, and it got close to the curfew time for Waverley's lights to be switched off. Ian and Greg Chappell describe what followed.

"There was a problem with the time and bowling the overs," Ian recalls. "That's when Andrew Caro [the tournament's chief administrator] went to Kerry and said, 'We've got a problem, we're going to go over time.' So Kerry said, 'Stop the clock!' It was an electronic scoreboard, so they pulled the power on the clock so there was no clock there.

"Wayne Prior was our 12th man, so he came out and told me, 'We're playing the full overs', and the West Indies were told something different, they were told 228 target and two overs less. It got to a point where I had to get one more over out of somebody. Hookesy troubled them a bit with his left-arm wrist spin, they didn't pick him so well. So I gambled on Hookesy and they hit him for about 18 off that over and then ran off the field.

"They'd been told 228 was the target and so many overs, and we'd been told something different."

Greg was down in the dressing rooms and witnessed the fallout. "Andrew came down first, tapped me on the back and said, 'Bad luck.' Ian turned around and said something along the lines of, 'Bad f***ing luck? There's no f***ing bad luck in that!' Next person I saw come through the door was Kerry, and Ian still had his back to the door and Kerry made the mistake of putting his hand on his shoulder and saying, 'I believe we've got a problem son.'

"Ian said, 'No Kerry, we haven't got a problem, you've got a f***ing problem. You talk to us about professionalism and you give us this.' And he said, 'Settle down, settle down, don't worry, we'll give you the same money as the West Indians.' Ian said, 'You can shove your f***ing money up your arse.' I could tell by the look on Kerry's face that hadn't been said to him that often. We never saw Andrew Caro again."

Ian still bristles about it. "I wouldn't drink," he says, "because I was so angry I thought, 'If I drink, anything might happen.'"

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After two summers of cricket competing against itself, the board reconciled with Packer and spawned a hybrid format where traditional Test matches shared the summer with World Series ODIs, many of them played under lights. But the four-day, floodlit Super Tests of 1978-79 were not followed up.

The next attempt to play first-class cricket under lights was made in the late 1980s. A proposal for day-night Sheffield Shield matches was put forward by New South Wales and Western Australia, as both associations had lights at their grounds, and the players were eager to try something new.

Trial matches were concocted, using white, orange, yellow and red balls to see which projectile was most visible at night. Believe it or not, the red ball and white sightscreen won the day, remaining more visible to the players than anything else tried. Geoff Lawson has written in the Sydney Morning Herald of another irony - how the red ball was overruled.

"The matches were scheduled for midsummer and there was a great deal of enthusiasm from the players and officials of both states," he wrote. "As NSW captain at the time, I was totally behind the concept and was quite prepared to gamble a bit, even to the extent of maybe losing a Shield match if something constructive came from the game.

"Ian said, 'You can shove your f***ing money up your arse.' I could tell by the look on Kerry's face that hadn't been said to him that often"
Greg Chappell

"The players were prepared to accept the good and bad fortune of a change in conditions just to see how well this exciting experiment would work. Then the good old Australian Cricket Board stepped in, just a couple of weeks before the first game, and pulled the plug - or flicked the switch to be more accurate."

The argument that prevented the first ever day-night first-class game going ahead was a humdinger. The ACB claimed NSW and Western Australia would be at a huge advantage because they would never have to stop play for bad light, a luxury the other teams in the competition did not have.

"The competition must be played on equal terms, they said [as if Brisbane in February and Hobart in October are equal!]," Lawson wrote. "This was the first time I had heard an argument from cricket administrators that there could be too much play on any day of a match."

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Intriguingly, it was the cleaving of Australian cricket's marketing from Packer's PBL that ushered in the next stab at day-night long form cricket. In 1994, the ACB elected to retain their own marketing and advertising rights while keeping the cricket broadcast in Nine's experienced hands.

The result was a summer in which all sorts of experiments were tried - state teams were given nicknames, Victoria played domestic one-day games in shorts, Australia A took part in the World Series, and Test cricket was emphasised far more prominently in board advertising. Plans for day-night Sheffield Shield matches were first reported in August, and by November the first of three day-night fixtures was played, this time with a yellow ball.

Allan Border, Adam Gilchrist, Tom Moody, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds were among the participants in that first game, between Western Australia and Queensland at the WACA Ground. So too was Sean Cary, now Cricket Australia's operations manager and a key figure in the development of the pink ball for a day-night Test 22 years later.

Cary can remember batting nervously against the decidedly slippery Greg Rowell under lights, in a match Queensland would go on to win by seven wickets. "The yellow ball was really hard to pick up on a nice, white WACA wicket," he remembers, "I think the pink ball has come on in leaps and bounds since those days. I think the players will be, not 100% comfortable, but certainly more comfortable than we were back in those days."

Yet over on the eastern seaboard, conditions seemed weighted heavily the other way. The match between Victoria and South Australia at the MCG in February 1995 was high scoring. Dean Jones, then reconsidering his decision to quit international cricket at the end of a South Africa tour the previous year, cracked 324. SA followed on, but Darren Lehmann then responded with 202 from 208 balls, helped by a similarly rollicking 104 from James Brayshaw.

Jones found the older yellow ball exceedingly difficult to see and score from, and benefited when his opposing captain, Jamie Siddons, saw the contest unfolding somewhat differently. "I was on about 140 but I was struggling to see the old yellow ball and it was getting harder to score," Jones says. "But Jamie walked past and gave it the 'You're doing fine against this ball but let's see how you go against a brand new one swinging under lights.' So he took it straightaway.

"All of a sudden it was like, 'Oh, there it is! Whack, four, Oh there it is! Whack, four.' So all of a sudden I blistered away again. But I really struggled to see the ball once it was 60 or 70 overs old. The compression on the ball was okay, it wasn't too soft, but it just got dirty and hard to pick up. The yellow ball had a green seam as well, which was good, so I could still see the rotation of the seam. It reversed a little bit, but not a lot."

The day-night experiment carried on for several years, later with an orange ball. Kevin Roberts, recently a CA board director and now a member of the board's executive general management team, was then a battling state cricketer. His only first-class century was made against South Australia at the SCG, under lights with the orange ball. As the scoreboard clock showed, he started his innings at 9.59pm. The following night, he reached three figures with the streakiest of inside edges.

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A fresh push for day-night cricket was started in 2008, this time with the CA chief executive James Sutherland very much at the helm. Australia were at the tail end of an era of dominance on the field that had nonetheless seen crowds, television audiences and revenues either plateau or decline. Sutherland wanted Tests to be played in a time slot more accessible to more people, and so experiments began again on a day-night ball, this time pink.

At the time, the game was in the grip of T20's explosion. Tony Greig, one of Packer's great salesmen, was sceptical. "To be perfectly honest I don't know what it is driving it," he said in 2010. "Normally boards are quite conservative about things like this and it seems they've gone the other way. Normally they actually get their ducks in a row quite well and it just seems like they're trying to rush this one and it does worry me.

"We've got two limited-overs forms and obviously the two limited-overs forms are the ones that must be played at night, because they lend themselves to that sort of thing. The Test match being a five-day match, particularly during the Christmas holidays, I am comfortable, and I think Australians are comfortable having the traditional game played in a fashion where you have traditional values.

"I think there's a place for that game in cricket, because we happen to have three different formats. The other aspect is, we're just not ready for it, we haven't got a ball. Whatever they say, there is no ball."

As for the comparisons with WSC and the day-night Super Tests, Greig did not see too much of a parallel. "In WSC we were going down a very innovative line, and initially there were very few people watching, and obviously Kerry was quite keen to make sure he delivered this cricket that he had into prime time. During WSC, everything was a bit of an experiment. By comparison with where we are now, I happen to think it is totally different."

Playing day-night cricket in the Sheffield Shield has involved many trials © Getty Images

Not too long after Greig expressed these views, CA's head of strategy Andrew Jones advised Sutherland that a deadline needed to be set for a day-night Test in order to get it to happen. Otherwise, Jones thought, the arguments about the ball and the format would go on endlessly. Quietly, a mooted Test series against New Zealand in the first half of the 2015-16 season was pencilled in as a possible date. As Sutherland reflects:

"I'm not interested in legacies, and this is no personal crusade or anything like that. I just want cricket to be more popular than it is. I love Test cricket, it's my favourite format of the game, and I want that to survive and thrive into the future, and sadly, I see parts of the world where it doesn't get the attention it deserves. I really believe by changing the times in which it is played that we can create more interest, or more access in the first instance, and that that will grow interest.

"And as I said earlier, indicatively, we are seeing that already, both in upfront ticket sales but also the ticket sales for people to come in later to watch the last couple of sessions, and we're really excited. I'm sure it will be reflected in television audiences as well. So if it is good for the game and it can help Test cricket survive for longer, and to thrive, then it is a good thing."

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This year's World Cup brought New Zealand and Australia close together after a few years of minimal cricket contact. This is something the out-going chairman, Wally Edwards, admits was a failing on CA's part. Sutherland agrees that the relationship was rekindled by the Cup collaboration; the tense, see-sawing encounter between the two nations at Eden Park was the scene for critical negotiations about more regular cricket in the future.

"I've been sceptical of it, but if it's what Test match cricket needs in other countries around the world to reinvigorate the game, then let's give it a go"
Ricky Ponting

There is occasionally a whiff of condescension about the way Australian cricket talks about its New Zealand counterpart, like a major corporate firm talking down to an up- and-coming start-up. Certainly the question of money was key to discussions. A broadcast deal factoring regular contact with Australia is estimated to fetch an extra $4 million for NZC, a hefty chunk of the nation's total player payment pool of around $10.5 million. By comparison, Australia's cricketers earn somewhere in the region of $67 million.

"I think you can also say that New Zealand cricket is in a very imaginative and dynamic state," Edwards says. "Very progressive. They modified their board ten years or 15 years ago, they understand the need and they have spoken passionately about it at the ICC, they understand the need to get cricket refreshed because they are trying really hard to keep Test cricket as part of their game, very seriously.

"A lot of other countries aren't, it's slipping down the hit parade if you like, but New Zealand aren't, they're passionate about it and they want to see it succeed and they understand that it gets down to people coming in for the game and watching it on TV. If you haven't got that, it is going to be very hard long-long term."

The overall vision for more accessible Test cricket has required considerable financial inducement to win over the more sceptical players on both sides. This week's match has $1 million in prize money up for grabs, to be split 60-40 between the winners and the losers. By comparison, the world's top-ranked Test team, South Africa, this year won only $500,000 in recognition of their achievement. The line between prize money and appearance money is thin.

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Broadcasters are eager for the concept. Shane Warne will be commentating on the game for Nine, and sums up the more cavalier attitudes of those who want to see it succeed. "I think day-night Test matches are fantastic, I really do think they're great, as long as the ball and that last [night] session doesn't dictate a whole match because it's too hard for the batsmen, and if you get unlucky with conditions. My key for day-night Test matches working is all about the ball. If the ball doesn't do too much and make it unplayable for the batsmen, because we want a fair contest between bat and ball, then we'll be okay.

"To me a good wicket isn't just a flat road, I'm sick and tired of seeing flat roads and big scores just dominate. As soon as we get something that's a little bit dominated by the ball, we say it's a dodgy wicket. If we can start Test matches off where the captains have a decision to make about whether to bat or bowl, that's a good thing. I'm all for day-night Test matches and trialling it, as long as the ball's right.

"The only problem I see with it is when you look around the world, where else you could possibly play day-night Test matches. There's not too many places you could play them. India's one place you could try it, but the dew at night would be an issue. England the sun means you don't need it, you could start at 1pm and finish at 7 or 8 anyway. The West Indies is another place you could do it, it could be very good for West Indian cricket, something like that.

"The Adelaide Test match is really important for the opportunity for day-night Tests. I'm all for it, and as a commentator I think it's fantastic, you can sleep in until lunchtime and have a few beers afterwards..."

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The more roundhead view is that held by Ricky Ponting, who has always been wary of the idea due to the stories he was told of those earlier day-night Sheffield Shield matches.

"That was where my negativity about night four or five-day cricket started," he says, "because I was hearing so much negative feedback from state guys about playing Sheffield Shield games under lights. I've just felt, even with the balls and everything, it just felt like it was way too much in favour of the bowlers at certain times in the game. You don't want those sorts of things happening in Test cricket with different times being so weighted one way or the other.

New Zealand's board has shown keenness to secure the future of Test cricket in their country, and that has shown in their willingness to participate in the pink-ball experiment © Getty Images

"I've been sceptical of it, but if it's what Test match cricket needs in other countries around the world to reinvigorate the game, then let's give it a go. But I'm not convinced. One, I don't think we need to reinvigorate Test cricket in Australia, we have great attendances, the people love it, the purists love the game. Two, it'll be interesting to see what the feedback is after this Test in Adelaide.

"I still put my hand up and say I'm not a supporter, but by the same token I hope it goes really well for the Aussies, the Kiwis and CA this week. We all know how much they've invested in it, and it might be the thing that does reinvigorate the game around the world."

Perhaps the greatest point of concern for Ponting is how the Adelaide pitch and square have been micromanaged to suit the pink ball and minimise its deterioration. "You can't in Adelaide, just because you're using a pink ball, leave a heap more grass on the pitch. We want the pitches and the grounds to keep their identity and characteristics. You can't just go mucking around with things like that, because that changes the whole way the game's played.

"The fact they've had to sweeten the players, CA dangling the cash out there to get the players to commit... it's going to be player-driven - this whole concept's going to be a yes or a no based on what the players say, and if you're getting a bit of money in your back pocket to say it's good, then that looks like what they're trying to do."

Ian Chappell's line about money to Packer echoes down the ages. The day-night Test comes at the end of a long journey, in which the tension between sport and commerce has always been evident. As Gideon Haigh observed in his 2012 lecture on Packer and WSC: "In the rush to agree that cricket did well from Packer, we're at risk of overlooking how well Packer did from cricket. Half-philanthropic? Not even Packer thought so."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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