Day-night County Championship experiment evokes mixed reactions

Day-night, pink-ball Championship cricket has received mixed feedback from county players and coaches with one head coach even describing it as a “farce”.

Day-night cricket was first trialled in the Championship last season ostensibly as a way of providing England players with experience of it ahead of their first-ever day-night Test against West Indies last September.

With the number of day-night Tests increasing – England played Australia and New Zealand in day-night Tests this winter – the ECB scheduled nine more pink-ball Championship fixtures for this season with five of them being played in the round of matches just finished.

However, the format has received criticism from some quarters and attendances at most county grounds have not benefitted much either with some counties even reporting a decline in spectator numbers.

“We are guinea pigs, the whole championship system is being used for an experiment,” said Middlesex head coach Richard Scott following his side’s heavy defeat to Kent. “This hasn’t been a fair game of cricket because it was very much dependent on the toss. The feedback we’re getting, and it’s universal from around the country, from players and coaches, is that that they don’t like it and it should end. It’s a farce.”

Conversely, Gloucestershire fast-bowler Craig Miles enjoyed their match last week against Northants. “As a whole, it is enjoyable as a player and I think it has a place in the schedule,” he told Cricbuzz. “The twilight period in the last session of the days gives the ball some assistance under lights and as a bowler, it keeps you in the game.”

Much of the focus has centred on the pink ball which has not found favour with bowlers. This season, matches in the first division have been using the pink Kookaburra ball while those in the second division have been using the Dukes version to test out the differences but the feedback has been mixed for both.

“I don’t think the ball is up to standard,” Essex assistant coach Dimi Mascheranhas told Cricbuzz during his side’s high-scoring match against Somerset. “It’s too much in the batter’s favour for English conditions. The ball doesn’t last, it cracks and goes soft.”

That was echoed by Somerset all-rounder Peter Trego who said after Essex had amassed 517-7 declared in their first innings: “The cricket balls we normally use in a four-day game are leather with a dye in it to shine up. This Kookaburra ball is some sort of plastic, PVC-sort of coating which peels off and doesn’t really do anything.

“It doesn’t swing, it doesn’t shine, the seam is very flat and it isn’t really a fair contest between bat and ball. It’s probably fair to say that ball doesn’t belong in four-day cricket in England.”

The Dukes ball seems to have received better feedback but still goes soft sooner than a normal red one. “The ball has held up ok actually, maintained shape and shine to it for longer than expected,” Durham batsman Will Smith told Cricbuzz. “Though it was pretty soft at an early stage.”

Having played with both balls, Miles thinks the Duke better than the Kookaburra. “The Dukes is certainly more bowler friendly out of the two,” he said. “However, on flat abrasive wickets, it can lose its shine quickly and it doesn’t feel as if you can recover it like the red ball. It also goes quite soft quickly, too.

“At Northampton, the wicket was particularly bowler friendly, and the ball held up better, kept a bit of a shine and didn’t go quite as soft. The pink Duke ball is probably reliant on the type of wicket as much as anything.”

Like Trego and Mascarenhas, Worcestershire head coach Kevin Sharp thinks that the ball meant his side’s match against Nottinghamshire was too heavily titled in the batsmen’s favour. “We felt during the day, the game was in favour of the batsman,” he told Cricbuzz. “There was very little swing and due to a flat seam, little movement off the surface.

“During the evening, there was a little more swing but no more than would be expected of a new red ball. Overall we feel that as contest it was in favour of the batsman.”

The question for the ECB to answer is whether day-night cricket is even necessary in England. With natural light at this time of year extending well past 9pm, and later in northern parts of the country, the floodlights hardly have any chance to take affect.

“The concept of day-night cricket is not one for the far north east of England at the height of summer,” said Smith. “It’s light up here until virtually 10pm at this time year, so with the floodlights on and bright twilight sun, it has made viewing very tricky in that period.”

One purpose of day-night cricket is to attract people after work finishes but attendances at several county grounds have been disappointing even if the football World Cup may have had an impact.

There was a minor increase in attendance at Chester-le-Street in Durham for their match against Warwickshire but not as much as they might have expected with the good weather and many people left before the final session. “There was hardly anyone there after 6pm,” said Smith.

Kent confirmed attendance at their match against Middlesex at Canterbury was broadly in line with a day match and reported no spike in “walk-ups” after 5pm when work traditionally finishes. One reason for that could be that Kent don’t offer a discounted ticket later in the day, a policy they may review.

Essex have been averaging over 2,000 people for Championship matches for the past two seasons but they confirmed attendances at their match against Somerset were well down on that figure with many spectators leaving around 5pm as well. “It has been extremely disappointing,” a club spokesman told Cricbuzz.

The ECB will review feedback from counties once all the day-night matches have been completed. “The view of our Cricket Committee last autumn was that given the likelihood of more day-night Test cricket in the future, we should continue to play pink-ball domestic fixtures to allow players experience of these different conditions,” an ECB spokesperson told Cricbuzz in an email.

“We have made a couple of changes this year, with the nine matches spread over a number of rounds from June to August, and pink Kookaburra balls being used in Division One, with pink Dukes balls again used in Division Two. It’s important we don’t jump to conclusions until all nine of those matches have been played.”

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