MCC calls for immediate day/night Tests
The MCC World Cricket Committee fears for the future of Test cricket unless action is taken quickly to promote the traditional format and has called for the immediate introduction of day/night matches to boost the game in countries where attendances are low.
The committee, which concluded a two-day meeting at Lord's on Friday and consists of a host of former players, reiterated its call for a Test Championship to bring context to the five-day game, but believes recent testing with pink balls means that floodlit Tests can start as soon as possible.
"We should not delay in presenting day-night Test cricket as an option for those Test-playing countries that are struggling to attract an audience," John Stephenson, the MCC assistant secretary, said. "We say this form of the game is viable now. We proved it in Abu Dhabi with the four-day game under lights.
"It was the perfect experiment, and demonstrated this game should go ahead now. We don't need another 18 months of research. The world of cricket is ready. It should not wait; the time is now."
The former Australian captain, Steve Waugh, was one of the committee members advocating the pink-ball revolution. "I think it would be great," he said. "There's always resistance to change because it takes people out of their comfort zone, but I think back to World Series Cricket back when I was a kid. It ignited the spark among the spectators, and as players it's exciting. Like Twenty20 cricket, it would be something new and challenging, and as a player I'd really embrace that.
"A day-night Test would be a chance to be part of history, by taking the game in a different direction, and Test cricket needs a few little changes to get people back on board and watching it. There are always going to be negative people and you tend to hear them more, but you've just got to get on with the game. It's a cricket ball but it's a different colours. Try it out and see what happens."
ICC have taken a more cautious view of the potential for day/night Tests and want more research undertaken before they are introduced, while not all the feedback coming out of Abu Dhabi from players was positive. However, in May, David Morgan, who finished his term as ICC President yesterday, hinted that the change could soon happen.
"I talked to administrators in Australia whom I expected to be so conservative as to be against day-night Test cricket but they are very much for it," he said. "I believe it won't be too long before we see day-night Test cricket in Australia or India."
The world cricket committee also said that it was vital that Test match pitches offered a fair balance between bat and ball to maintain interest levels. They cited the surfaces in Bangladesh as a poor example for the game, while recently in St Kitts West Indies and South Africa played a Test that was an inevitable draw from very early.
"MCC's research from India, New Zealand and South Africa, published in November 2009, showed that the cricketing public in these countries wanted to watch day/night Test cricket and were strongly in favour of a World Test Championship," an MCC statement said. "Fairer pitches, such as the ones England recently encountered in South Africa - which offered bounce and some assistance to the bowlers - rather than in Bangladesh - which were low, slow and batsmen-friendly - would also help to improve the game as a spectacle."
The committee, which also published research which showed only 11% of cricket watched in India was Test matches compared to 33% six years ago, added that it understood that the commercial demands of the game meant that Twenty20 was a crucial format for the financial health of the sport. But it believes that Test cricket should be made more attractive with greater rewards on offer to ward off the threat of players becoming Twenty20 freelancers.
"With T20 riches on offer, the committee feel that national governing bodies should do all that they can to retain their best talent and ensure Test cricket is a financially rewarding career. There are freelance cricketers who see a profitable career in playing shorter forms of the game only; the committee wants to guard against an increase in their number.
"The committee understands that market forces will always dictate what type of cricket spectators want to watch and that you cannot force people to watch Test match cricket. At the moment, however, cricket authorities around the world need to make a more concerted effort to attract audiences to Test cricket: a World Test Championship, played by well-rewarded cricketers - on fair pitches - at a time of the day to suit the paying public, would provide the Test game with the boost it requires."
"It's important that senior players pass on to the junior players just how important it is to play Test cricket," said Waugh. "We've seen what's happened in West Indies cricket, with Chris Gayle stating he prefers Twenty20 cricket. That's had an impact on his side. The senior players have to pass it on, because as soon as you lose it from one generation to the next, then there's going to be trouble."
The cricket committee meeting also received a presentation from Andy Flower, the England coach, on the current situation in Zimbabwe and the MCC will be sending a fact-finding trip to the country to assess the feasibility of a club tour in 2011.