Cricket Australia wants day-night Tests to be trialled over the next few years, but it seems a couple of crucial elements have been overlooked in the desire to double, treble or even quadruple the television viewing figures. This week we look back to when the idea was introduced in the Australian first-class competition
The players agreed on two things about day-night matches during the Sheffield Shield's part-time new look between 1994-95 and 1998-99: it was a great concept but the balls weren't good enough under lights. A similar problem was experienced during the World Series Cricket Supertests almost 20 years earlier and by the end of the second attempt the various colours of the disregarded orbs looked like a packet of spilled M&Ms. Red would go the distance but couldn't be seen after dark, yellow and orange were fine until they got scuffed and 80 overs was about double the amount a white one could survive.
Getting more people to domestic games - the Sheffield Shield was losing about A$6m a season - was behind the switch, with Graham Halbish, the ACB chief executive, saying it was "a means of enhancing interest in the competition". A group of players on the ACB cricket committee, including Mark Taylor, Ian Healy and Steve Waugh, supported the idea, which had been mooted since 1986-87.
The first match was played in November 1994 between Queensland and Western Australia and Victoria and New South Wales also hosted games that season. They started at 2.30pm and were over by 9.30pm if everything went to schedule. Rain and slow over-rates dragged stumps past the late news and one night in Brisbane did not finish until 11.10pm.
No batsman reached a century in the inaugural match, but Dean Jones (324 not out) and Darren Lehmann (202 not out) turned the third game at the MCG into the only contest under lights in which the batsmen truly dominated. A crowd of 7000 attended one day and it was a larger attendance than the totals for each of the first two contests, which were hampered by poor weather. "Those who were there complained that the yellow ball was virtually impossible to see," the Almanack reported. "[But] at least the players continued to dress in their traditional whites."
The administrators saw enough potential to continue the trial and each of the six states was due to play two day-night fixtures for the following season in 1995-96. It didn't quite go to plan and one match at Adelaide was cancelled when the retractable lights did not work in time, leaving only four games on the calendar. After two seasons of yellow balls - red ones were still used in the day affairs - the players were desperate for change. They were too difficult to focus on while batting and got lost in the background of the stands, particularly when dirty.
Tom Moody, then playing for Western Australia, thought the overall idea was "terrific", but "batting at night is so difficult". He suggested a white ball at each end while New South Wales' Geoff Lawson said the yellow ones needed to be changed every 40 overs. Allan Border also wanted to face a different hue of leather. "The concept is excellent but I'd prefer the colour of the ball was changed from lemon to a slightly more orange." He got his wish.
|Dean Jones was so upset with the visibility that he had the white sightscreen moved to the side at the Northern End|
The balls, which were crafted from the same leather as red ones and then dyed, remained a problem whatever their paint. Dean Jones was batting in Perth the following summer and was so upset with the visibility that he had the white sightscreen moved to the side at the Northern End.
"He preferred to watch the ball come out of the bowler's hand against a background of dark-green shadecloth, beige seats and the windows of the bar," the West Australian reported. It helped Jones a bit - he made 32 and 75 - but Michael Hussey and Damien Martyn didn't have much trouble, scoring centuries in the seven-wicket defeat of Victoria.
Mostly the matches suited the bowlers, although gripping the ball on dewy evenings didn't help them or the fielders, and the 1998-99 season signalled the end of the testing. "The ball 'behaved differently' as players observed," Allan's Australian Cricket Annual reported. "That was seen to interfere with the skills that were being promoted in the Shield as a nursery for Test cricket."
Five matches had been played at the WACA, four at the SCG, three at the MCG and the Gabba, and one at the Adelaide Oval. "Floodlit first-class games failed to attract the crowds, and the states gave up on them," the Almanack reported.
While the idea was exciting, a five-season trial did not create more interest in the Sheffield Shield, which was about to become the Pura Milk Cup, and in 30 years of researching only a red ball has lasted more than 80 overs regularly. Cricket Australia faces similar problems with its late-night dreaming.
Allan's Australian Cricket Annuals
Wisden Cricketers' Almanacks
Wisden Cricketers' Almanacks Australia
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Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo