Clarke not sold on floodlit Tests
Even as Cricket Australia pushes ahead with plans to play a day-night Test match within two years, the national captain Michael Clarke has admitted he does not think the five-day game needs to go nocturnal to survive.
Questions about the future of Test matches have led to numerous novel ideas for widening the popularity of the format over the years, and CA has been particularly eager to play for prime time television audiences. A trial of Sheffield Shield matches under lights earlier this year met with mixed results, with numerous reservations raised about the longevity of the Kookaburra pink ball in particular.
When asked in New York by ESPNcricinfo whether Test cricket needed day-night matches in order to remain vital, Clarke replied staunchly in the negative: "No I don't. I think there's room for all three forms of the game we play now. I think it's great that you can play an ODI either a day or a day-night game, T20 the same.
"I've never experienced Test cricket at night so I don't know what it's like ... but I don't believe we need to have day-night Test cricket, for Test cricket to survive. I think if you've watched any Test cricket over the last 12 months, there would have been a lot of people off their chairs watching the game. So long may that continue, during the day or at night."
The CA chief executive James Sutherland has been a vocal supporter of the concept, and declared recently that the trial had been largely successful. Tentative plans are in place for a day-night match against New Zealand in Australia in 2015-16. Clarke, though, said he would need to play under lights at first-class level himself before submitting to those conditions for a Test.
"I'd have to try it first. I don't think it would be fair or right for me to sit here and say yes or no [to playing a day-night Test]," Clarke said. "I think I need to experience it, probably at first-class level, before I could comment on that. They've done that in Australia, they've used the pink ball during the second-last round of Shield cricket in Australia. So when I get back home I'll have that conversation with a few of the players and see what they think."
The concerns around the ball went beyond its longevity to other areas, including the fact that the white seam stitching on the pink projectile was difficult to define, robbing batsmen of an important clue as to which way it might swing, seam or spin. Brisbane, where Queensland faced Tasmania, seemed the most helpful environment for preserving the ball, while in Melbourne and Adelaide it deteriorated far more quickly.
"We clearly need to continue to improve the ball and to make sure it behaves as closely as possible to the red ball," Sutherland said after the trials. "But I have always said that somewhere along the way - in order to get to that outcome - it may be necessary to reach some sort of compromise on the ball.
"Perhaps what ball is used, how it's used and maybe for how long it's used in an innings - whether 80 overs is the right time for a ball to last, or whatever? They are all things we'll take into account as we gather the feedback and other data from the trials."
The former England batsman Kevin Pietersen has been a an outspoken critic of the idea, arguing that the variance in conditions from day to night would be so drastic as to require the formulation of a new statistical database distinct from those for current Test match playing conditions.
There are numerous views on day-night Test matches even within CA, and the chairman Wally Edwards has previously revealed he is "not a great believer in it". "I think it's worth trying," he said during the South Africa Test series. "You should trial it fairly rigorously, though, before you start playing Test cricket. But potentially it fills grounds up."
Before any day-night assignments, Clarke will be taking the Test team to the UAE for two matches against Pakistan. Following a 5-0 Ashes sweep and a rousing 2-1 defeat of South Africa away from home, Australia's indifferent reputation against spin bowling and slower surfaces will be tested by Saeed Ajmal and others.
"Facing spin bowling has been an area of an Australian cricketer's game where we've had to continually improve," Clarke said. "We're fortunate in Australia to have really good wickets that do have pace and bounce and then later on in the game you get spin. But when you play in the subcontinent, you're getting spin from ball one, you're getting less bounce, you're getting more natural variation off the wicket.
"So the more we can experience playing in those conditions, the better we'll become. I know our junior programmes do a lot more, in terms of travelling to the subcontinent to learn about those conditions, than what we did when I was a young player. Dubai and the UAE are going to be an extremely tough series, Pakistan have a very strong team, and they know those conditions."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig