The introduction of Test cricket, under floodlights with a pink ball, is the development that should interest the West Indies most, writes Tony Cozier
Cricket's momentous happenings in the other parts of the planet have largely passed the West Indies by. Preoccupied by their own habitual infighting, the latest involving the board and the relevant governments and the suspension and reinstatement, of new head coach Phil Simmons, the initial day-night Test match in Adelaide, widely hailed as a triumph and the likely saviour of the enfeebled traditional format, received scant attention in the media.
A general view of the first day-night Test match between Australia and New Zealand played at the Adelaide Oval last month. Pic/Getty Images
So too with increasing proposals for four-day Tests and England's decision to experimentally tinker with one of the oldest traditions in the game for next season's county championship, offering the captain of the visiting team the choice of bowling first or tossing for the right to bat.
No eyebrows were raised over the ICC match referee's condemnation of the spinning, three-day pitch for their Nagpur Test victory over South Africa that is likely to draw a fine. The view here was, so what's new? Even the start of the West Indies team's Test tour of Australia has been downgraded. Avid fans, such as remain, are turned off by the embarrassing struggle which started in the warm-up match against an anonymous Cricket Australia XI.
Boost for West Indies
The introduction of Test cricket, under floodlights with a pink ball, is the development that should interest the West Indies most. Nowhere is it more in need of a boost. Only when England come, with their thousands of travelling supporters, are stands pleasingly populated. The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has been twice moved to give 15,660 as the number of tourists for the Tests in Antigua, Grenada and Barbados last April and May, with an economic impact on the region of US$59.8 million. Otherwise, it relies mainly on takings from television rights.
Courtney Walsh, in Australia as selector with the West Indies team, was 'very impressed' with the lights, the pink ball and the atmosphere of record crowds of over 120,000 over the three days in Adelaide. He looked forward to the same in the Caribbean to stimulate more support from spectators able to take in the last couple of sessions play after work.
In his column in The Times, former England captain, Mike Atherton made the obvious point that 'a game with no audience has no future'. It was a reason for the Adelaide experiment to be welcomed.
He noted the constraints — warm evenings, short sunsets, no dew on the outfield — that eliminated England and, because of the dew, placed a question mark over Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.
To him, Kensington Oval in Barbados ticked all the boxes. The nights are pleasantly balmy, there is little, if any, dew, 'the locals enjoy their nightlife' and the ground is situated within comfortable walking distance of the capital, Bridgetown.
Back in 2010
In fact, the West Indies did introduce day-night, pink-ball cricket for four matches in the first-class competition in 2010. Apart from Kensington, the venues were the Sir Vivian Richards Ground in Antigua, the National Stadium at Providence in Guyana and the Beausejours Stadium in St Lucia. At the time, they were the only ones with adequate lighting, if any. It seemed an ideal trial for future remodelled Tests. Inexplicably, there have been none since.
Lights have been subsequently installed at Sabina Park in Jamaica, Windsor Park in Dominica and the National Stadium in Grenada. They and the others are only used for the T20 Caribbean Premier League (CPL). The WICB's reluctance to proceed with the notion of day-night Tests is mainly dictated by times inconvenient for lucrative international television coverage.
The farthest east of the Test-playing countries, West Indies' playing hours of 2 pm-9 pm (as the new arrangement would be) equates to 7 pm-2 am in England, an hour later in South Africa, 12:15 am-7:15 am in the sub-continent, 5 pm-2 am in Australia.
A convenient time
When the new BT channel paid big money for the rights to televise the T20 CPL in 2014, one proviso was that the majority of matches would be day-time, ideal times for their viewers. The effect was a significant reduction in crowds unable to take time off from work; the following season, CPL matches, and spectators, were back where they belonged, under the lights.
Atherton is right in identifying Barbados as the ideal location for day-night, pink-ball Tests. Given television's clout, the reality is that they are highly unlikely at Kensington Oval or anywhere else in the Caribbean. It is the same reason why even one-day internationals have remained just that, day matches.
Even if floodlit Tests were sanctioned, it is naïve to suddenly expect stands to be packed. Those of us in the West Indies will simply have to follow such matches from afar on our TV screens.
Other factors have led to diminishing interest in the traditional game, not least the woeful weakness of the West Indies team. Until it becomes competitive once more against strong opposition, floodlights, vivacious dancing damsels, fireworks, sponsors' giveaways and the other trappings so prominent in T20s won't pull them in.
We'll have to make do with watching pink-ball Tests from afar on our television screens.