Cook backs use of floodlights in Test cricket
Alastair Cook, the batsman at the centre of England's successful run chase against West Indies at Lord's, has expressed support for the authorities' growing willingness to use floodlights in Test cricket.
The ECB has traditionally been ultra-cautious in advocating the use of floodlights outside the one-day game but that suspicion has been markedly reduced this summer with England and West Indies both committed to using artificial light throughout the three-Test series whenever the occasion demands. The ruling came from the ICC's match referee, Roshan Mahanama, during a pre-series briefing and neither board took up their right to appeal against floodlights being used at any of the three grounds hosting a Test in the series - Lord's, Trent Bridge or Edgbaston.
There has been no change in the ICC regulations governing use of floodlights, but there has been a shift in interpretation. Mahanama stressed that players would only leave the field if conditions were regarded as unsafe and expressed a stronger commitment to the regulation which states: "If in the opinion of the umpires, natural light is deteriorating to an unfit level, they shall authorize the ground authorities to use the available artificial lighting so that the match can continue in acceptable conditions."
Cook, whose opinion as England's Test vice-captain and captain in 50-over cricket is significant, has no complaints and he indicated that the rest of the side were comfortable about a shift in policy that puts the entertainment of the public first. He experienced first-hand the difficulties of batting under lights when England collapsed to 10 for 2 in four hostile overs at the end of the fourth day but he survived to make 79 in England's five-wicket win.
"I think that fourth day was a prime example of why lights should be used in Test cricket," he said. "There are occasions when it works to your disadvantage like when it's pretty dark, such as the last 15 to 20 minutes on that day when we had to go and face it.
"But we were talking about it in the dressing-room and if those lights weren't on we probably wouldn't have played much that day and I think for the crowd and the entertainment we've got to try and get as much play as we can. It will work in your favour one day and others you'll have to go and face four overs in not ideal conditions but hopefully we'll benefit from that situation at some stage as well."
The MCC has been as a champion of floodlit Tests at night and, in common with the ICC, it has conducted research into pink and orange balls that might be more suited to night Tests. But when it comes to poor light in the day time, the common-or-garden red ball does not seem to have outlived its usefulness.
"It feels quite strange," said Cook, who was one of four England captains gathered in Nottingham in support of the latest scheme to bring cricket to the inner cities. "It's just different because we are exploring new ground but I think it worked really well. Because Test cricket is over five days, if one side are bowling under lights and then the other has to bat in those conditions all the time you might be able to change the game too much but at Lord's because of the nature of the wicket, it was fine. There's a good case for using them now.
"We were saying we don't think we'd have got much play, certainly not the 80 or 90-odd overs we got, and it probably would've been hard to get a result. We wouldn't have got more than 30 or 40 overs. We wouldn't have won that game without those lights.
"We need a bit more experience of playing with them but at lord's when the wicket was good it didn't seem to affect what the ball did."
Without the willingness of England and West Indies to resort to floodlights, the scourge of bad light would have severely disrupted the Lord's Test, frustrating spectators and potentially costing the ECB revenue when many counties are under severe financial pressure. Test cricket has benefited significantly from the investment in faster-draining outfields and it is logical to hope that floodlights, better quality on most English Test grounds these days, can bring similar dividends.
It remains to be seen whether England and South Africa will remain so committed to floodlights later this summer in a series that could decide the No. 1 Test ranking. Nothing in ICC regulations is ever entirely clear: the use of floodlights is subject to the interpretation of clause 16 on playing which allows for additional playing time at the end of regulation hours to recover time lost to the weather.
Cook, though, spoke for many who tire of interminable late finishes because of weather-interrupted days, a common feature of Test cricket in England, when he stated: "Of course common sense always has to be used at certain stages. But in an ideal world eleven 'til six is best."
Denesh Ramdin, West Indies' vice-captain, did not sound quite as enthusiastic. He not only had to bat under floodlights, but keep wicket as well and he took several painful blows on the hands during the Test. "It was a bit difficult with the pavilion in the background," he said. "It was difficult and it was challenging."
Shivnarine Chanderpaul had also expressed surprise at use of floodlights at the end of two prolonged innings in which he batted nearly ten-and-a-half hours in the match. "He didn't seem to have any problems, he batted long enough I think," Cook joked. "Like always in cricket, and any sport, sometimes when you go into the unknown it's different."
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo