Time to get Test cricket out of the dark ages

After four of the dullest days of cricket one could imagine – on an abominable pitch that rendered all bowlers useless – the first Test between Pakistan and England dramatically came to life yesterday when a mixture of complacency and the bowling of debutant Adil Rashid who recovered from harrowing first innings figures of 0-163 the worst figures ever recorded by a Test debutant to take five second innings wickets caused Pakistan to collapse to 173 all out leaving England to score 99 runs in 19 overs to win. They had reached 74-4 off 11 overs but could not go any further. The umpires took the players off for bad light and the game was left drawn.

People reading this who are not cricket fans will wonder “what is bad light”? A stoppage for bad light happens when in the umpires opinion it is too dark to play cricket safely. Fair enough one might think. But the ridiculous aspect is that the stadium in Abu Dhabi has floodlights. The purpose of floodlights is of course to enable sport to be played in the dark. How on earth can it be too dark to play a game under floodlights? Imagine that happening in football or baseball. It can’t unless the floodlights fail.

Now until fairly recently England would probably have won yesterday. That is because the umpires would not have taken the players off the field. Instead they would have asked the England batsmen if they wanted to go off for bad light. With England on the verge of victory they would have refused to go off stayed on the field and gone on to win. This is how England got their last away win against Pakistan back in 2000. The umpires offered England the light but they refused stayed on the field and won a famous victory which they would not have got under today’s rules as the umpires would have taken them off.

So why did the International Cricket Council (ICC) change the rule? Because bad light was being used as a tactical strategy. If a team was winning they batted on – the classic example being the Karachi Test in 2000 mentioned above. But if a team was in trouble they would take advantage of the offer and go off. The best example here was South Africa against England in 2004. The Proteas were 290-8 and heading for certain defeat when the umpires offered them the light and the batsmen gleefully accepted. Had South Africa been winning the game they would have stayed on. So the ICC removed the decision on bad light from the players to the umpires.

But this had made the situation for spectators and TV viewers even worse because they are losing more cricket than under the old rules because on those occasions where the batsmen would have stayed on the umpires are taking them off. Yesterday being a classic example. And the reason this is happening is that the ICC got it wrong. The problem with bad light is not that teams were using it as a tactic to get out of trouble but that it exists at all.

I am struggling to think of another sport where bad light is a factor. Only the Wimbledon and French Open tennis championships come to mind. The ridiculous thing being that only Test and first class cricket are effected by bad light. Fifty over and 20 20 cricket involving the same players goes on regardless of light and weekend amateur cricketers play in far worse light than professional cricketers do!

The main problem with bad light is the damage it does to the image of Test cricket. Test cricket is fighting to survive outside England and Australia where the people prefer fifty over and 20 20 cricket. The sight of the game being stopped because of bad light in a floodlit stadium will not help Test cricket’s image. Frankly it makes it look pathetic and out of date. No wonder the public outside England and Australia prefer short form cricket.

So it is time for the ICC to take action. They should order umpires that play must go on in any light regardless of how dark it gets. Play should only stop when it is raining or if there is a risk of lightening that could strike a player. Otherwise the show must go on. It is 2015. The idea of sport bring stopped because it is dark is ridiculous. It is time for Test cricket to get out of the dark ages get in line with the 21st century and play in all light. There is a saying called “Adapt or die”. If Test cricket does not begin to adapt to the modern world and get rid of bad light stoppages it will die. And frankly it would deserve to.

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