CA’s new broadcast deal moves us closer to day-night Tests

Date: June 14, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

One of the key tenets of any business is to grow your client base.

The same principal should automatically apply to elite level sport.

With that in mind, Cricket Australia – and more particularly its CEO James Sutherland – has been leading the charge towards day-night Test cricket.

The recent signing of a $500 million contract with the Nine Network to telecast international cricket for the next five years has significantly raised the prospect of day-night Test cricket in Australia.

The Nine Network was forced to pay 78 per cent more than its current rights agreement after the Ten Network made a bold attempt to end Nine’s 36-year association with CA.

For that sort of money Nine will be looking to bolster its audience substantially in order to justify the massive amount of money it has shelled out.

One way to increase both the TV audience and attendances at the ground is to move from the traditional daytime schedule – a situation that would be a win-win for both the broadcaster and CA.

Nine has seen the ratings benefits of live cricket being broadcast in prime time as a result of the figures returned each summer for the Perth Test.

With the three-hour time difference due to daylight saving through the cricket season stumps are due to be drawn at the WACA Test at 8.30pm Eastern Daylight Saving Time.

With the now seemingly mandatory slow over rates the day’s play often concludes a half-hour later than that.

Ideally, the broadcasters in particular, would like to see day-night Tests scheduled to finish each day around 9.30pm.

By its very nature, a five-day Test can see only two days played over the weekend.

As CA has argued for quite some time, 60 per cent of each Test is scheduled when a large number of people are unable to either attend or watch it on TV.

Would it seem practical to schedule AFL or NRL matches on Friday afternoon rather than Friday night?

The schedule for this summer’s Ashes series is set in concrete with all five Tests commencing at the normal times.

But already there are rumours abounding that the world’s first day-night Test may be played the following season.

The 2014-15 summer will be a different one for cricket fans with just four Test matches being staged against India due to Australia and New Zealand jointly hosting the World Cup in March 2015.

One of the traditional mainland Test venues will miss out that summer with Brisbane the most likely candidate.

Adelaide is believed to be the preferred venue for the historic inaugural day-night Test due to the fact that the South Australian climate is the most conducive with little dew normally experienced in the evenings.

The ICC gave the tick to day-night Test cricket in October 2012, five years after CA pushed to have the format adopted on a global scale.

The sticking point to date has been the fact that a ball that is suitable to be used under lights has still not been perfected.

The familiar red cricket ball cannot be used at night due the difficulty in seeing it clearly under lights.

The problem is developing a coloured ball – whether it is white, pink, orange or yellow, which have all been trialled – that can last the mandatory 80 overs prior to being replaced is proving difficult.

But is there a necessity to maintain the current law in first-class cricket that a new ball cannot be taken prior to 80 overs?

What if coloured balls were replaced every 50 or 60 overs – it would be the same for both teams.

Would it make all that much difference?

Nowadays pace bowlers are often just as difficult to contend with when they have an older ball with reverse swing a significant factor – many times the swing is more pronounced with an older ball.

In order to try and increase crowds and audiences for what is still deemed to be the pinnacle of the sport it may well be worth altering the new ball regulations for day-night Tests.

Some point to the fact that batting during the twilight period when the natural light gives way to the artificial light is a difficult time for batsmen – a point often eluded to with respect to day-night limited overs matches – and should mitigate against day-night Tests.

Test cricket by its very nature already throws up numerous periods where batting can be an extremely difficult prospect.

Often the toss alone on certain pitches can have a large say in the outcome.

Being sent in on a juicy, seaming first day pitch can create havoc while being able to bat first on a pitch that is clearly going to deteriorate dramatically over five days is a major advantage.

And let’s not forget Test cricket is spelled with a capital ‘T’ because it seen as the ultimate test of the sport’s skills.

A move towards some day-night Tests would only further enhance that contention.

Some argue that the introduction of day-night Tests will distort the game’s statistics.

That argument also does not hold water.

Throughout the history of Test cricket changes have occurred that have had significant effects on the stats of the game – the move from uncovered to covered pitches, bat technology and the reduction of boundaries to name a few.

And let’s not forget Sir Donald Bradman only played Test cricket in two countries.

As a business imperative the move to day-night Test cricket makes total sense.

Traditionalists may baulk at the idea but they seem likely to be forced in the future to come to terms with the changing times.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 13 June 2013