England v New Zealand, 1st Test, Lord's, 2nd day May 16, 2008

Test cricket needs to lighten up

Spectators were left watching an empty playing field at Lord's as players constantly took the light, which isn't doing the game any favours

Steve Bucknor checks his light meter again, and the batsmen were soon wandering off the leave the spectators short-changed © Getty Images
What on earth can the unconverted have made of the nonsense that was played out at Lord's today? Five thousand miles away in India, the realisation has dawned that cricket is a spectacle to be enjoyed, and as an upshot, we have the lights, glitz, cheerleaders, and non-stop action of the Indian Premier League. That tournament is an abomination in the minds of many traditionalists, and yet, at least it can be said that those who turn up to each match get their money's worth. This evening in Mumbai, for instance, the Kolkata Knight Riders were bundled out for 67, and the game was done and dusted in 17 swishes of Sanath Jayasuriya's bat. It's not cricket, perhaps, but it's undoubtedly entertainment.

All such fripperies have been stripped away for this series, and rightly so, because Test cricket doesn't need to be dressed up to the nines to be riveting. It does, however, need to played to be enjoyed, and for the 26,000 punters who sat through the gloom at Lord's today, there was nothing on offer but frustration in the freezing cold. The average price of a seat at Lord's is £65, and yet for vast swathes of the day, those who had coughed up did nothing more than stare at an idle hovercover, as 41.3 overs were lost - in five infuriating batches - to cricket's most curse-worthy blight, bad light.

It was desperate to witness - it was almost as if Test cricket, like some brilliant but bloodyminded grandparent, had decided that obstinacy was the best way to win an argument. Barely a year has gone by since the single biggest light-related fiasco in the history of cricket, and ironically, the circumstances then were entirely opposite to those that we have witnessed today. On that occasion, at the World Cup final in Barbados, the players were ushered back out in unplayable pitch-black conditions, to contest a match that was well and truly over.

Now, 13 months on, a match in its formative stages has been halted repeatedly and without any valid reason. The blame lies not so much with the umpires who were booed throughout the day, but with Law 3.9, redrafted in 2003, which is a shambles. The first three of its six subclauses all refer to some nebulous concept of unsuitability, which goes undefined until the umpires have taken their first light-meter readings. The agreement of both captains is required to over-rule them - something that will almost never happen in high-stakes world of Test cricket - and it is only at clause 3.9.d, halfway down the ream of regulations, that any mention of players' safety comes into consideration. By that stage, however, the players have long been tucked into the pavilion.

It's an unsatisfactory state of affairs, and one that has to be addressed at the highest levels of the game, because Test cricket does not deserve to be mocked in such a way - and nor, in the cricket's current climate, can it afford to be. In his Cricinfo Talk column, David Lloyd, a former umpire himself, suggested that 99% of bad light calls are made for tactical reasons alone. Safety, he added, shouldn't come into it except in extreme cases. "This is a big boys game," he said. "It's a hard ball, and part of the thrill is the contact with the ball. The hurt. That element of danger is part of the drama."

There wasn't a lot of drama in evidence today, but nor was there any danger either. Jacob Oram battled hard for his two-and-a-half hour 28, but admitted at the close that personal safety was far from his thoughts during the breaks in play: "When it gets dark, sooner or later one might just have your name on it, if you don't pick it up right, or you don't quite see it quite in time," he said. "But I don't think it got to that point when the batsman couldn't see it at all. I don't think it was quite that dangerous."

In fact, for Oram, the real frustration came when he was bowling. During the Hamilton and Wellington Tests in March, England scarcely managed to get Oram's bowling off the square, but today he was milked for 15 runs in five stop-start overs. "I found it tough today," he admitted. "We went off for the first light break, warmed up again, then went off, then came back on, then went off for an early tea. We had a five-minute warm-up afterwards, only for the umpires to say, "not now", so I cooled down again and was sitting around for 30-40 minutes. Then I came straight back into it without even a five-minute warning. It was pretty tough to get the body going and into the game."

And yet, by the end of the day, with England coasting along on 68 for 0, he admitted that being off the field was "a godsend", which is hardly surprising given how shot to bits his rhythm must have been. "They got away from us a bit and the momentum was totally with them at the end," he said. "I'm not surprised they took the light though. There's a lot of the game left and to be honest, it was quite dark. We were having trouble in the field picking it up, though that could have been because of the background with lots of black or grey coats."

In between the irritations, Ryan Sidebottom was the pick of England's bowlers with four wickets for five runs. "They came off so why shouldn't we?" was his opinion of the lost overs, which is fair enough, because it's not his job to judge the conditions in which the game is played. But it's a pretty sad state of affairs nonetheless. Couldn't someone, somewhere, have suggested they should both crack on regardless?

The richest irony may yet arrive during Saturday's play, for which the weather is expected to be cold, wet and miserable. Lord's has done its utmost to combat the vagaries of the English summer, and last year, the decision to invest £1.25 million in a state-of-the-art drainage system paid off in a single afternoon, as the super-absorbent outfield mopped up the entire contents of the Brahmaputra River, after a deluge on the Friday of the first Test against India. What's the betting that more overs are squeezed in amid the showers tomorrow than were managed on a bone-dry day today?

Maybe the next time the dark clouds roll over, one of the MCC committeemen could lob the umpires one of the pink balls that were trialled here earlier in the season. Or perhaps England's kit suppliers, adidas, could bring out a fluorescent range to replace the "brilliant white" togs that the players have been donning in this game. Anything to aid them in seeing what's going on out there, and get on with a game that, today, stood still for far too long.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Parth on May 17, 2008, 16:22 GMT

    I think these problems are more 'English' problems and not 'Cricket' problems. The bad light is fair play , I would take safety over personal satisfaction any day, but that is just me and I don't agree with the author, of course the view is a bit different if you actually play cricket. Now England has never really been known for its weather so its kind of a moot point, maybe England shouldn't host so many matches? Secondly the cost of cricket everywhere else in the world for the most part is reasonable, and again the prices are a 'English' problem not a 'Cricket' problem. England really needs to re-think its policy , the administration should be blamed for bad timing, and trying to gain too much profit. While everywhere else in the world cricket seems just fine. Eg. Australia India series? Stands were full, and same when they came to India. South Africa has great turnouts as well and so does NZ. Maybe the English should take a page out of these countries book.

  • Arijit_in_TO on May 17, 2008, 16:19 GMT

    Full disclosure: I love Test matches. But honetly, try explaining the concpet of "Bad light stopped play" to anyone other than an avid cricket fan and you will receive a "deer in the headlights" stare. Test cricket, whether the admintrators of the game like it or not, will have to change. Technology (e.g. floodlights, fluorescent cricket balls) may be one solution. Simpy put, the market for an individual's discretionary spending is limited and greater respect must be given to the spectators paying their hard earned money to attend a Test match, irrespective of whether it is at Lord's or Lahore.

  • Acg on May 17, 2008, 16:12 GMT

    I say there was hardly any action on both days. Instead of England having the edge, bad light was a better winner. It always happens in England that bad light stops play now and again and sometimes even rain. So do you really call this the home of cricket? or home of interrupted cricket?

  • David on May 17, 2008, 11:19 GMT

    Let me congratulate the umpires out in the middle yesterday. They were determined to try to keep the players out there; it *was* dark, and I've seen players taken off before in better light than it's been throughout this test match. I think - given the current laws - they did very well to get 108 overs in. They knew the light would be a big issue on the first day, and waited until the light really was pretty bad before offering it. The light kept oscillating either side of their agreed accepted level, and every time it was just about okay they got the players straight back out there. Well done them.

    The interpretation at the moment is "if it's a disadvantage to the batsmen, it's unsuitable for play". This needs to be relaxed. The time each side has batting in bad light should even out over the course of a match, and if it doesn't, that's bad luck. Luck is already a big part of the game (eg. the toss), so that's not a problem. Unless the light's unsafe, or *really* bad, keep playing!

  • brian on May 17, 2008, 7:11 GMT

    I agree with the previous comment.Friday was a shambles.£65 is a lot of money to watch 2nd class entertainment,not to mention the fortune it costs to get into and out of london.I notice also the minimum amount of overs are utilized (in respect of the insurance policy),making sure nobody gets a refund.I love cricket,all cricket,but its getting to the stage where, i cant watch it live on tv, cant afford to watch it live,and dont particurly want to spend a day in the cold in the most expensive city on earth to see 2 blokes in white coats walking around with light meters all day.Cricket needs to get its house in order quick.

  • Ed on May 17, 2008, 6:44 GMT

    I couldn't agree more. England is, as I understand it, the only country that consistently fills it's grounds for Test matches, and yet this was the worst possible advert, so it won't be for long. If you took a friend who was new to the game to Thursday or Friday's play at Lords, and then took them to even the most mundane County Twenty20, they would go for the Twenty20 every time and it would be easy to understand why.

    If they are going to use a lightmeter then the readings need to be public knowledge and a setting stated before the game that the spectators can see getting closer. As it is, to the naked eye, it was brighter on Thursday evening than when they started on Friday at 11. And it's always interesting to see the players go off for safety reasons when Vettori's just hit 12 off an Anderson over - he must have been feeling very unsafe!

    Why have the bad light rule at all? The only reason to go off would be if the spectators couldn't see the middle as they are paying.

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