NASSER HUSSAIN: Pink ball, early start, play on under lights… just find a way to keep the game going
- There are some simple ways to ensure Test cricket can continue in poor light
- It seems groundstaff and umpires have been all too quick to take a break
- There will be severe financial repercussions for broadcasters and the ECB
- Umpires and officials must stop dragging players off at the first sign of trouble
The eyes of the cricketing world have been on England this summer. Not just because everyone wants to see how biosecure matches are staged, but because fans are desperate to watch some Test cricket.
So many have tuned in from all over the world. In terms of average viewing figures, the series against West Indies was the highest of all time on Sky Sports. We’ve been getting messages from Australia, India and everywhere else. It is a great opportunity to sell the game, and for the vast majority of the summer that is exactly what has happened.
West Indies and Pakistan have been brilliant tourists, and the cricket has been fascinating. But the one area where the sport needs to take a look at itself is this tendency to walk off the field.
Players, staff, and umpires are too happy to take a break in the event of poor light
Until Saturday, I had some sympathy with the officials, because they are simply following ICC regulations: you get the light meters out, and if the reading goes below a certain level, you go off.
But cricket simply has to move with the times. In this summer of all summers, with high-quality floodlights in use at the Ageas Bowl, the thinking has to be: how can we stay on?
It was nonsense on the third day here to have no cricket going on, despite the lights being on, while on the Nursery Ground next door — where there are no lights — Wahab Riaz was steaming in during a practice session for the Pakistan white-ball players.
I understand the argument that the red ball can be harder to see under lights, in which case Test cricket should consider using a pink ball more generally if it means the players stay on for longer. I know there’s a problem with it going soft, but if the alternative is no cricket at all, then give me a soft ball every time.
It seems absurd that play could not continue on day four under the Ageas Bowl floodlights
And if the authorities don’t want a pink ball, how about another regulation: if the lights are on, you simply stay out there. Imagine being a youngster at your first Test, and watching the players troop off 15 minutes after the lights have been turned on. It makes no sense.
Yes, the powers that be are worried about safety — but cricket is inherently a dangerous sport. If Phil Tufnell goes out to bat at midday against Curtly Ambrose, that’s no less dangerous than batting under lights.
Then, on Saturday, we had the ridiculous scene of no rain falling for hours, but the groundstaff not making an appearance until 2.30pm. Not long after that, the umpires decided the light was too poor.
It’s all part of the old mentality in this country, which stems from playing too much cricket: people are exhausted, and take the first chance to put their feet up. I know there’s less excuse this summer, because they haven’t played much, but it’s an old habit and hard to shake off.
Little can be done about rain, but staff must be proactive when weather is more favourable
I don’t mean to have a crack at the groundstaff: the players all do it, and so do the officials. And so did I, both as a player and a captain. But in the current climate, with all the effort and expenditure that has gone into staging these biosecure games, you have to rouse yourself to get the cricket on whenever you can.
And if that means starting half an hour earlier to make up time, so be it — especially when there are no spectators who have to rearrange travel plans and so on. It’s something Sky could easily accommodate.
The final straw came on Sunday morning, when we’d waited more than a day for some action, and suddenly the players decided they needed some sawdust for the run-ups. You couldn’t make it up!
Hanging over all of this is the projected loss of £100million the ECB will make even if they stage all their international matches this summer. I applaud everyone involved for the sacrifices they have made, but we’ll all suffer if the game loses money — and that includes the people who are dragging the players off at the first sign of trouble.