Osman Samiuddin
Sportswriter at the National

Is there light in Pakistan's future?

The Quaid-e-Azam trophy final is being played under floodlights in Karachi. What does this step mean for Pakistan cricket?

Osman Samiuddin

January 16, 2011

Comments: 16 | Text size: A | A

Danish Kaneria took four wickets in PIA's first innings, HBL v PIA, Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Division One Final, first day, Karachi, January 13, 2011
Danish Kaneria took four first-innings wickets with an orange ball © AFP
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The future has apparently taken place at Karachi's National Stadium, a venue as suited to that purpose as a museum. The Quaid-e-Azam trophy final, the match for the premier first-class prize in the land's cricket, was on. The tournament has been around since 1953-54, the most prestigious, yet it has no identity or permanence to it, no real shape or structure. There have been golden phases and irrelevant ones too.

One season it has organisations, one season regions, one season both, one season two divisions, one season one. This year it has decided to have two divisions, and complicated rules of relegation and promotion. The final is being played under lights, with an orange ball, from 2pm local time onwards. What a thing.

Of course it wasn't planned or anything. When the season began it wasn't on the cards, and it could've been tried in the group stages. "It could've been but I guess dair aaye durust aaye (better late than never)," says Subhan Ahmed, the board's chief operating officer. "At least we are taking this step and a lot will depend on how successful this is for us to carry this forward for other matches."

Decidedly it is a left-field development this: modern and, for the PCB, suspiciously so. Is it just a little bit like finding out your father is listening to the same new band that you're listening to? It's been a long time since the PCB was innovative. Bringing in organisations in the early 70s was one time, presaging the private ownership of cricket (in an entirely different way to today of course). The tenure of Nur Khan, where the push for neutral umpires began, in the 80s was one more; early backing of technology for umpires yet another.

This latest idea emerged in a meeting between the board and broadcaster. Talk, as it often is when such heavies meet, had been of attracting bigger crowds to the first-class game, the type of crowds, for example, that turn up regularly for the local Twenty20. A day-night final was mentioned, taken up, discussed with the board's domestic tournaments committee, approved, and here we are.

"The primary reason was that we knew there was a decrease in interest in our public coming to first-class games," says Ahmed. "We thought that this could provide something, inject something. There were commercial reasons as well. Broadcasters would like to have a product for prime time."

Ahmed, if ever there was such a thing, is an indigenous PCB product, and that is a good thing. If there is a job in the board he hasn't done since the mid-90s, it's because it mustn't exist, and this is a gradual, deserved progression. That he is immensely respected, trusted and liked by the ICC, a man they can and do work with, is doubly important currently.

The trial isn't a pioneering one per se. Australia, never behind the game, tried it in 1997 in the Sheffield Shield, using similar orange balls. The same season, in April 1997, the final of India's Ranji Trophy, between Mumbai and Delhi, was also floodlit, though white balls were used and they had trouble with them, replacing them regularly. The West Indian 2009-10 domestic season also used pink balls and floodlights. The same smattering of colour and imagination was also found in the English County Championship opener in Abu Dhabi last March. Yet this is a significant moment, the game being a final and on TV.

Momentum is gathering globally and critical mass nears. Day-night Tests could be on the way. The ICC had been sounded out about the experiment, so Dave Richardson, the ICC's GM cricket operations is here. "We're extremely grateful to the PCB for holding this trial because it is very rare for a domestic first-class match to be televised and for us to have a complete trial it is necessary to see how the ball performs on the field, how the players see it, how the spectators see it and how it appears on TV - whether it creates a comet effect or it can be clearly seen on a TV screen."

Given how things have been between the ICC and the PCB, an extra layer of politic is not difficult to imagine in the whole exercise. A report will be sent soon after taking inputs from players, umpires, fans, and probably most importantly, cameramen and TV viewers.

And what of the game itself? There was some zip around through the first day, the ball gathering itself in flight before pinging itself this way and that, skidding almost, off the surface. Was it the orange ball, or lights later? Or was it just the National Stadium up to her old ways, always giving to those bowlers on the first day who pitch full? No batsman looked entirely uncomfortable, but neither did any really book in, Kamran Sajid apart. Shoaib Malik was Sania-less and out of the national side, and played with a suitably commanding fury. It was brief.

Two days before the final, both sides practised with an orange and pink ball. The orange, used in the local Twenty20 a few years back, won. Javed Miandad, who was around, thinks colour is no issue. He would, wouldn't he? Laptops make no difference to him. Hanif Mohammad thought it swung a little more. Danish Kaneria picked up four on the first day and got good break. On the second, Imran Farhat got a racy hundred, so the orange ball can't have been that bad; he said it kept its shine and hardness longer. Later in the innings there was some reverse as well.

The ball lasted. The cricket was gripping throughout, good deliveries beating edges, fine drives through cover and square, matters even essentially.

Umpires might have been troubled. Farhat's leg-before in particular was awful and Hasan Raza didn't look best pleased about his.

There wasn't so much a crowd as random gatherings of people through the stands; thin gatherings. Had the board decided to properly promote the final, maybe more would've come. Maybe they should've advertised it as eight hours of uninterrupted light and electricity on offer in a city - like the country - in the grip of an overwhelming power crisis. Had it been staged in Faisalabad or another smaller metro, more would definitely have come; considerably more. And starting another domestic competition, the one-day cup, before this final had finished wasn't too bright either.

These are quibbles, little trudges backwards from one minor step, forward, sideways, diagonally, wherever, but generally in a direction away from the current hole. If things go well here, more floodlit games could be held.

"It is a step forward and we hope to experiment more in the near future," says Ahmed. Is there light?

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by pom_basher on (January 18, 2011, 10:29 GMT)

what a shame... more pakistanis write comments on Indian cricket than their own!!!

Posted by Noman_Yousuf_Dandore on (January 18, 2011, 7:23 GMT)

I watched a bit of the match in the stadium and on tv as well. The orange ball is a bit difficult to trace, especially in the stadium under lights. Nonetheless it was a nice experience. As for attracting larger crowds, marketing was definitely one of the issues, but I think the real reasons for scarce crowd were a) lack of super stars in the teams b) pathetic stadium facilities and c) much more importantly the final being played between two departmental teams. Imagine if it was a Karachi v Lahore final, or Karachi v any other side in National Stadium for that matter, I believe it would have attracted much more interest. So next time, make it city v city and hold such experiments at the home ground of one of the teams. Cheers!

Posted by   on (January 18, 2011, 5:25 GMT)

good things for pakistan too

Posted by mkissb on (January 18, 2011, 3:36 GMT)

its only in Karachi that crowed is very low coz people are very bz and they have no time (and sense also) to watch such events. this match should be played on Lahore or multan or any where else in Pakistan. I bet there must be over 20000 people to watch live in ground.

Posted by   on (January 17, 2011, 23:50 GMT)

The sad part is that to get the score for the ongoing, history making final , I have to search it in a British news paper. Dawn don't seem to care about it. Not worthy enough to be on the front page.. Go figure!!!

Posted by   on (January 17, 2011, 21:55 GMT)

Playing domestic cricket under lights in a power starving country!!! I don't know how wise is the decision to do that. Its domestic cricket where there will not be possibilities of generating big money. When country is going thru crisis everyone should use common sense. To me, I think it is a waste of scare resource.

Posted by asadkum on (January 17, 2011, 15:27 GMT)

Mohammad Asad from USA ............................................................... All the best !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Varsan on (January 17, 2011, 10:30 GMT)

@Naved Khan.. The world can have an alternative to the IPL, the problem is the market isnt there for an equivalent alternative. Every country including Pakistan, Australia and Srilanka mentioned here have their own 'Domestic" league as the IPL is also, but understand why everyone considers this a premier competition.. Its all the money honey. India accounts to about 85% of the revenue and 50% of the following of the game of cricket. Remove india from a global 20-20 event, and u are left with not much revenue to cater to the remaining 50% of the viewing population using 15% of the revenue. It doesnt make business sense does it???? Clearly understand Pakistans anger on being left out of the IPL.

Posted by tikna on (January 17, 2011, 10:14 GMT)

Well the least is that the domestic cricket in Pakistan made news, which is not something that happens too often is it?

Posted by rzi-BDML on (January 17, 2011, 9:46 GMT)

New ideas always hit attention

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Osman SamiuddinClose
Osman Samiuddin Osman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.

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