Samir Chopra March 14, 2009

Starry Starry Nights

When the idea of night Tests was first mooted, my initial reaction was one of resistance

In Don DeLillo's White Noise, its central protagonist, Jack Gladney, in a meditation on the mixed blessings of the post-industrial age, notes sunsets are more spectacular than they used to be, a result of the increased particulate matter in the air causing increased scattering of the evening light. Thus truly, what the Lord taketh away with one hand, he giveth with the other. In the cricketing context, while one-day night cricket might have led to the pejorative term "pajama cricket" and to the purists eye, a gaudiness and razzle-dazzle unbecoming to the game's dignity, it has also provided a new set of spectacular backdrops to the cricketing action.

I was reminded of this the other day when watching the fourth ODI between India and New Zealand at Seddon Park in Hamilton on March 10th. Even as the rain came down again, disappointingly curtailing the match and introducing umpteen interruptions, the angry black-grey clouds, the gathering Stygian darkness, the bright, angular glare of the floodlights, and the crimson-orange sunset all collaborated to provide an appropriately apocalyptic setting to Virender Sehwag's 125 off 74 balls.

In an earlier post of mine, I noted how cricket photographs have a hold on the cricket fan. But there is more to cricket photographs than just noting players sporting skills. Part of the pleasure in looking at a photograph of the game lies in noting the unique tableau of the game: the cavernous MCG illuminated by the bright, skin-burning Australian sun, the depressing fences of Indian grounds that conjure up gladiatorial action, the English crowds pressed up to the tiny parapets of the boundary lines, the soaring hills behind Port of Spain and Kingston, and of course, Table Mountain at Newlands.

And I've never forgotten the first photograph I saw of the Sydney Cricket Ground (on the back cover of the now sadly defunct World Cricket Digest): a night game between Australia and New Zealand, the white ball and multi-colored cricket uniforms set off beautifully on a tableau of lush green outfields, soaring green roofs of the older stands improbably held up by what seemed like slender cast-iron pillars, and yes, a spectacular sunset in the background.

When the idea of night Tests was first mooted, my initial reaction was one of resistance. How could one imagine Test cricket being played at night? All of the imagery of Tests was bound up with green fields, white uniforms, bright sunlight, and red balls. But watching the spectacular setting of the India-New Zealand encounter, experiencing the sense of a larger drama being played out as the background of frenetic cricketing action, reminded me cricket is capable of taking new settings and making them its own, that the beauty of Test cricket at night may be worth exploring. Many dramatic one-day internationals have been played at night (my personal favorite, the India-Pakistan WC 96 quarterfinal was one such game). The drama of the close chase at night is now an iconic feature of the shorter version of the game. Who knows what intense crackling Test action would be played out in the setting of a night game? Who knows what spectacular light show might illuminate a late collapse, a gritty match-saving partnership (perhaps one involving Fidel Edwards), or a brilliant last-session century?

I might be a purist but this sort of experiment is likely to override my conservative leanings on purely aesthetic grounds.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here