Thursday, 29 June 2017

Behind the pink ball

posted by John Winn

I went to Headingley on Monday for the first day/night of the championship match, to be played with the much discussed pink ball and with Surrey the visitors. Arriving at 1:00, an hour before wickets were due to be pitched I found  a surprisingly large crowd had assembled. This was put down in part at least to the EGM that had been held at noon but perhaps an additional factor could be that old habits die hard and that those conditioned to years of 11::00 starts had had difficulty filling in the morning.

As is their right Surrey had insisted on a toss and on calling correctly Gareth Batty had given his powerful batting line up first taste of a Headingley wicket situated towards the east side. Whilst we were pretty sure of a full six hours play the weather map for the remaining three days showed little other than blue and so it has proved and as I type, 7:30 Thursday morning, rain has started to fall again in the Lower Ure Valley. Surrey cashed in against an attack shorn of Sidebottom who carried the drinks and which had given up 446 runs in one innings at Lord's the previous week. Led of course by Sangakarra who has almost certainly ended his Headingley career 180 not out and with good support from Burns and Roy, Surrey declared on 516 for 7. There was just time for Lyth to get out, and you may be surprised that he has a lower average than Lees at this point of the season, before rain intervened as it has done ever since and made it unlikely that Surrey can get the 19 wickets they need for victory.

So much for the cricket, what of the experiment? Championship cricket is on the ropes with fewer matches this season and a possible further reduction to come in 2020 when it is believed the traditional form of the game will be confined to spring and early autumn with as much as a three month gap where they will be no four day cricket. With this in mind, whist not exactly welcoming the experiment, I was prepared to give it a go with the pill sweetened by the availability of some
test players and the fact that all 18 counties would be involved. Outwardly the aim was to attract a post work audience although the more cynical felt that it was primarily an opportunity to give test players practice against the pink ball. The change in start time presented some problems for the administrators, not least what to call the intervals for while the scorecard called the first interval lunch and the second one tea the pa informed us that we had forty minutes for tea, too long, and twenty minutes for dinner, far too short.

I left the ground at 8:30,  many others had left before, and enjoyed a much easier journey home thanks to the lateness of the hour and was able to listen to commentary on Five Live Sports Extra led by the admirable Kevin Howells. Their main concern seems to have been with the issue of visibility both from the players' point of view and from the commentary box. With midsummer chosen for the trial dusk rather than darkness was likely to be prevalent at close of play and  having spent some time trawling twitter and county websites this issue has been mentioned frequently and sighting the ball seems to be most difficult when neither daylight nor floodlight are in the ascendancy particularly against the background of the grass. Listening yesterday evening to commentary on Warwickshire v Lancashire the unusually high number of dropped catches was mentioned and attention was drawn to the Hampshire match where it seemed at one point that Somerset would have to restart their innings at 8:30 with the score at 135 for 8. Hardly a welcoming prospect but one which was avoided by the return of the rain.

What of the ball itself? The jury is still out here for at one extreme we have records at Chelmsford where Essex hit 542 for 3 against a Middlesex attack that bowled Yorkshire out cheaply twice last week, Surrey's 516 for 7 and Umeed's century for Warwickshire which lasted for more than seven hours. Compare this with the situation at The Riverside on Monday where Durham with their strongest batting line up of the season found themselves on the first afternoon 18 for 5 and then 64 for 7. When Worcestershire batted they sent in Hastings at three and Leach at four to knock some of the gloss of the ball and protect the regular batsmen from any excessive swing. Presumably with the same intention Buttler opened for Lancs last night.

What of the crowds for these 9  matches? Certainly in the north only Monday can be used as a measure and 491 came into Headingley after the watershed but overall the crowd was roughly what YCCC would expect for such a match. Essex riding high, and with a tradition of good evening crowds, reported a 'slightly high than usual' turnout and this seems to have been the pattern. Hundreds rather than thousands being drawn in by the lure of evening cricket at a reduced price but off set by people leaving early to catch a bus or train, not wanting too be too late home, perhaps even in this age of 24/7 employment to go to work or any other of the many reasons that people leave championship cricket before stumps, reasons very often particular to the individual.

Finally I have just opened my copy of The Guardian which contains a report of events at Chelmsford but no other matches are covered other than in the scoreboard section and here for example Lancashire are shown as being on 95 for 2 whereas in fact they are 178 for 4, a lead of 130 over The Bears. In other words The Guardian's coverage of county cricket is even worse than usual, an unforeseen downside of the experiment. Will it be repeated? Impossible for me to say but I would hope that the ECB will do a proper survey to gauge reaction including the opinions of the 80000 or so county members before any decision is taken.

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