Is there light in Pakistan's future?
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