Warwickshire hope to play a Championship game under floodlights before the end of the season as they continue to explore the possibilities of staging England's first day-night Test in 2017.
The club hailed their first trial game, a second XI match against Worcestershire held this week, as a success, though there were some concerns about the deterioration of the pink balls utilised. Both sides scored 300 in their first innings, with the three-day game eventually ending in a draw.
Warwickshire accept that time is running out if they are to have any hope of staging the Test between England and West Indies at the ground next August under lights. As a result, they would like to extend the trials as soon as possible and have identified the Championship match against Lancashire (scheduled to start on September 20) as a possibility. Both the ECB and Lancashire would have to agree to the move.
"There was no problem with visibility," Ian Blackwell, the former England allrounder who is now an umpire, told ESPNcricinfo. "On a basic level, it was safe and there were no obvious issues for the batsmen, the fielders or us as umpires. The only issue was the wear of the balls."
Two types of ball were used in the game. While both aged more in the way you might expect a white ball to deteriorate, the general view was the Dukes ball has fared slightly better than the Kookaburra. Players also reported that visibility of the Dukes ball, which has a more prominent, dark seam, was better than the Kookaburra's relatively light, slight seam.
Of particular concern was the scuffing of the ball. Most involved agreed that, due to the way the ball aged, there was no obvious way to shine the ball, making it impossible to gain either conventional or reverse swing. The pronounced seam on the Dukes ball did, at least, enable bowlers to gain some movement throughout and spinners might even find gripping it a little easier.
One option that has been mooted, though not especially forcibly, it the possibility of changing the pink balls earlier than the 80-over mark used for red balls. Russell Warren, the other umpire in the game, pointed out that, in List A cricket, the white ball used to be changed at 35 overs and that now a new ball isused from each end.
"We couldn't find a way to buff the ball," William Porterfield, the Ireland batsman who captained Warwickshire's 2nd XI in the game, said. "It went soft pretty early. After about 30 overs it looked like a 70-over old red ball.
"The visibility was fine. If people think staging a Test under lights will bring in another 10,000 people, I'd say 'go for it'. It's a spectator sport and we have to be mindful of that.
"But you'd want to see what happened at a higher level, against quicker, more skilful bowlers, before making that decision. It was a slightly different game due to the lack of shine, but from a player's perspective it was fine."
A delegation from the ECB including Kevin Shine, Andy Flower, David Parsons and Alan Fordham attended the game at various times, as did John Stephenson from the MCC, which has been at the forefront of tests into the viability of staging Test cricket under lights. They will now reflect on all the relevant feedback from the match and consider the best way to progress.
Among the issues to consider might be the start times. This game finished at around 9.30pm each evening, meaning that there was only around 30 minutes of cricket played in true darkness. Dew was not a factor, though it had been an unusually warm week.
It may also be that, on a more grassy pitch (this was the pitch used for the Test against Pakistan and the Royal London quarter-final match between Warwickshire and Essex) the balls may have fared a little better. The pitch for the first floodlit Test, the Adelaide game between Australia and New Zealand in November 2015, was a little more grassy than usual and was finished, in a three-wicket victory to Australia, within three days.
If plans to stage the Test in 2017 do not come to fruition - and Warwickshire chief executive Neil Snowball rates them 50-50 at best - the opportunity may not come again until 2020. The TV audience in India, England's visitors in high summer of 2018, will not be helped by later start times necessary for floodlit games, while it may well be considered that there is no need to stage an Ashes Test in 2019 under lights with full houses all but guaranteed. For a Test against West Indies, however, the novelty value of floodlights might add to ticket sales.