Cricket: Please save us from groundhog day

By Paul Lewis

Cricket's first day-night test at Adelaide was a big success, although some are concerned the pink ball swings more during night sessions. Photo / Getty Images
Cricket's first day-night test at Adelaide was a big success, although some are concerned the pink ball swings more during night sessions. Photo / Getty Images

English author and playwright John Mortimer, in his play Voyage Round My Father, a homage to his blind dad, portrayed the old man being buzzed by a wasp at a family picnic and saying: "Ah, when you are harassed by a wasp, how you long for a fly..."

The quote came back to me when watching Sri Lanka's seemingly never-ending contests against the Black Caps, opponents who seem fated always to be playing each other in a kind of cricketing Groundhog Day.

This is no criticism of either team - they can only play what is in front of them and, for the Black Caps, that has been Sri Lanka for 25 matches in all forms since 2012-13. That's right, 25 games of cricket against the same opposition in three years, home and away, with more to come.

It's not even that this Sri Lankan team is the weakest we have seen, in spite of their win on Thursday. Nor is it the boom-boom bats, short boundaries and sacrificial lambs, whoops, I mean bowlers, in the short-form stuff which turns sixes into less of a thrill and more catching practice for the crowd.

It's just that it's so goddamn meaningless; sport needs variety and innovation - and so it was that, when watching the ODIs, irritated by the wasp of boredom, I thought of the coming two-test series against Australia next month and wished at least one of them was a pink-ball, day-night test in Hamilton or Auckland, instead of the daytime tests scheduled for Wellington and Christchurch.

New Zealand Cricket are hinting at a night test against the South Africans in 2016-17. It's a shame they haven't arranged one against Australia - the change will boost test cricket beyond empty stadiums and the perception of a slow death, like a fish in a puddle, hopefully leading to more tests to leaven the constant diet of limited overs.

The latter is a classic example of how more can actually be less. The Black Caps' exciting World Cup campaign was an undoubted fillip for the game and justification for their focus on short-form cricket, ODIs in particular. But too much of the smacko versions can wear thin and there has been a sense New Zealand is among nations sentenced to play fewer significant tests while the big boys - India, Australia, England and, to a lesser extent, South Africa - keep test fires burning with top-tier clashes which attract crowds and sponsors.

However, all the crowing NZC did when the Future Tours Programme was settled was mostly justified. In the next three years, including the current season, the Black Caps are scheduled for five tests against Pakistan and South Africa, four against England, three each against the West Indies and India and two against Australia, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka - who we do not see again until 2018.

While the test match schedule is looking up and while it will be fascinating to see how New Zealand fare without Brendon McCullum, test cricket needs to evolve. The lessons of the pink ball test (huge crowds, undiluted interest, a close result, bowlers on top for once) need to be embraced now.

Instead Australia - or Australian players - seem to have taken a step back. Cricket Australia is trying to negotiate a day-night test against Pakistan and South Africa in the 2016-17 summer but players such as veteran quick Peter Siddle have misgivings.

"It was obviously an exciting venture and I think it was well received," he said of the Adelaide test. "But from a cricket point of view, it still does need a bit of work. There's still got to be a lot changed."

A green seam both Australian and New Zealand batsmen struggled to pick up has led to consideration of a black seam for better visibility - but a bigger issue is the night sessions, when the ball swung more than in daylight.

Siddle is worried that will shape contests too much: "The difference between day and night in terms of conditions was quite noticeable. You saw the loss of wickets at night and how hard it was to bat. It can sort of take away one side's chances of winning. It can change that percentage a lot."

Yes, just like preparing a greentop or a dustbowl pitch to suit your quicks or spinners respectively; winning the toss can be a winning advantage. It's common for the ball to do a lot early before settling into more bat-friendly conditions. In day-night tests, that period of movement of the ball simply comes later in the day.

Even if the pink ball gives bowlers an advantage, it's a long overdue correction of the bias which has played into the hands of batsmen going on the bash on mostly benign pitches.

When hitting sixes has become dully familiar while over-hyping TV commentators trill about how wonderful it all is, why not make a bigger investment in a form of the game which stirred more than 120,000 people to attend at Adelaide?

If players are worried about their averages, simply create a new chapter of statistics and let the world see who are the best nocturnal test players.

Day-night tests might still have a fly or two in the ointment but they are far preferable to the dull pain left by the sting of endless repetition.

- Herald on Sunday

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