Australia see night Tests as a matter of survival
Day-night Test matches could be the only way for the five-day format to survive amid the growing Twenty20 phenomenon, Cricket Australia's chief executive James Sutherland has said. Cricket Australia have been keen on hosting Test cricket under lights for some time, provided a suitable ball can be developed, and remain confident fans would embrace the concept.
"It just might be - I'm not saying this is the case - but it just might be the only way that Test cricket stays alive," Sutherland said. "We don't know that, but there's obviously pressure on Test cricket and the game."
Twenty20 has developed so rapidly that, less than four years after the first international was played, the list of short-format events includes the IPL, ICL, Champions League, Stanford 20/20 and the ICC World Twenty20, while a new southern hemisphere tournament is also in the works. Sutherland said day-night Tests could be one way of ensuring the traditional format remained relevant in the future.
"It [Test cricket] might not always be the ultimate game," he said. "We want it to be … but above everything I don't want it to die. We just need to have other options. I'm not saying it's [day-night Tests] going to happen and I'm not going to say it'll happen everywhere. We just need to explore that possibility and understand that if it can be done then it might be a great way to protect Test cricket."
There are practical considerations to be dealt with before Tests can be held under lights, including finding the right coloured ball and addressing the issue of extra dewy conditions. Speaking at an Australian Cricket Society lunch in Melbourne, Sutherland said it would be important to ensure nighttime Tests did not compromise the traditions of the game to an unacceptable level.
The push for day-night Tests has been sparked largely by the desire for greater television audiences. Australia is one of the few nations where Test cricket still draws consistently large crowds but the administrators are keen to boost the overall viewing numbers by making the game a more attractive television option, which they hope would be achieved with a slot in primetime. Sutherland said Twenty20 viewing patterns and attendances had changed the nature of the game.
"Cricket in itself in order to survive needs to respond to the demand for the game," Sutherland said. "Cricket's a very popular sport, it's arguably the second most popular sport in the world and people watch the game all around the world, but they really watch the game properly on television when it's played at night.
"The important thing is that we find the right balance for Test cricket to fit in with the other forms of the game. Test cricket obviously faces its own challenges in this day and age because it's a long form of the game that's played during the daytime, which necessarily includes playing over weekdays when not as many people can get to the matches.
"All of those things combine together to make Test cricket in a commercial sense less appealing than the other forms of the game. And it doesn't work the same way for television and it doesn't work the same for sponsors and other partners of the game. That's not to say that it's a better game or a worse game - it's just the reality of the nature of the game."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo