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Lord's, let there be light

Martin Williamson watches the lights go on for the first time at Lord's

The floodlights shine for the first time at Lord's © Getty Images
History was made tonight when, three decades after Kerry Packer launched floodlit cricket in Australia, the lights were turned on at Lord's for a day-night match. The fact that Middlesex beat Derbyshire by three wickets in a Pro40 match was almost incidental to the bigger story.
The MCC, which is not nearly as conservative as its reputation, is looking ahead. The ground, while boasting the best facilities in the country, is under increasing pressure as other venues acquire international status. It needed lights and this game was a test case, more about placating the neighbours than the cricket itself.
In that regard it will be deemed a success. Around 5000 turned out on a glorious late-summer evening, including several hundred of the MCC's neighbours who had been given freebies. While those numbers might appear low, the fixture was only switched from Southgate last month and it probably suited the organisers to have a low-key curtain raiser. And while the temporary lights were not as powerful as more permanent ones would be, they were more than enough for a decent game to take place.
As a further move to ease the worries of the locals, the match started 30 minutes earlier than usual for a day-night fixture and the public bars were shut an hour before the close. The music that accompanies boundaries and wickets was also more subdued.
For the Derbyshire innings the pylons barely peeked out from over the top of the stands. At the break, they extended to their full height, and as the sun finally set, their impact was really felt. The general consensus was that the old ground was enhanced by being bathed in light.
Over the winter the MCC will engage in consultations with residents and, all being well, there will be more floodlit matches in 2008.
The long-term aim has to be the instillation of permanent lights, albeit ones that are likely to be retractable so as not to destroy the ambience of the ground and also to placate planners and residents. Those should be in place in time for the 2009 ICC World Twenty20, alongside ambitious plans to increase the capacity from around 28,000 to more than 35,000.
The MCC will not only have to pay for the floodlights themselves; what last night did show was that the lighting in the stands and on the concourses will also need a major overhaul.
But the experiment was a success and the first of a number of hurdles was successfully overcome.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo