Hector has been to the Rose Bowl to watch some day-night first class cricket. Here are his observations …
I’ll admit I was intrigued upon first hearing about the concept. Cricket under lights is hardly a new idea but the county championship under lights stoked an inner sense of curiosity.
Admittedly, floodlit county championship cricket is not wholly new – Kent hosted Glamorgan at Canterbury during the 2011 season – but when a wholesale round of fixtures was announced during the dark depths of the previous winter, the novelty of the concept provoked much intrigue.
Naturally, the Ageas Bowl, located within a twenty minute bimble of my lounge sofa, would prove the obvious venue to attend a portion of one of the day / night fixtures. Hampshire were entertaining Somerset.
Ordinarily, a day watching county championship cricket at the cheerless, concrete monolith in the Southampton hinterlands would be spectating anathema but, in this instance, needs must and the frisson of a decent day / evening’s cricket, as opposed to the normal twenty overs of McCricket, proved enough of a persuader.
Floodlit cricket is of course old hat in the modern English domestic game but, akin to any sport played under lights, there is something about watching sport out in the ether and under the cover of darkness.
During the warmth of a clear summer’s day there is the open expanse of sky, all two thousand acres of it, to provide far-reaching views and a sense of celestial wonderment. Switch on the floodlights and, to some extent, the opposite occurs; the inky blackness of night seems to close in and provide a more intimate atmosphere as the far-reaching surrounds disappear under the cloak of darkness all but obliging one’s focus to remain on the field of play.
Nevertheless, any such frivolities would be tempered somewhat during the round of day/night fixtures by the fact that sunset around the time of the matches would be at about 9.20pm, dictating that only the final day’s session would be under lights with only the final few overs likely to be under the aforementioned inky blackness. Still, it’s the thought that counts.
Of similar intrigue was the much talked about pink ball. Use of a red ball may be the long standing tradition of the first class game but, from a spectating point of view, the rouge coloured cherry can prove rather difficult to follow, particularly against backgrounds featuring fellow spectators, trees and foliage. In contrast, the white ball proves somewhat easier to follow as it scuds across the outfield. The colour contrast and its inherent brightness allows for a much friendlier spectator experience.
Thus, how would the pink ball fare? Not in terms of swing and whether it would prove robust enough (for these are trifling issues for those on the field of play) but would the average punter in the stand be able to comfortably follow the ball?
Curiously, there has been the odd break in the white and red ball hegemony at the Ageas Bowl in recent times courtesy of the ground hosting the Southern Premier League T20 final. In such matches an orange ball has been used – although its visibility to those in attendance sits somewhere in between the two normal colours. Yellow balls, unused at the higher levels in the game but available for purchase, are on a par with the white equivalent for ease of vision.
Hampshire won the toss and batted first, reaching 84 without loss upon my arrival at the start of the second session. It was a little disappointing to miss just over a third of the day’s play but today was as much about the post work / evening session when the sun began to set, the floodlights were switched on, and the potential vicissitudes of the pink ball as much as anything else.
Somewhat pleasingly, an appreciating crowd pushing a couple of thousand sat watching the play at the beginning of the middle session – an encouraging total at such an early juncture.
From a spectating point of view, the early moments of watching the pink ball were not overly encouraging. Viewing from a pew in the original circle of seating from the Rose Bowl Mark 1, said ball proved rather difficult to follow unless it was scudding along the turf. In contrast to the verdant sward, a background of the sun bleached cream seats and the purple Ageas sponsored steps did not prove so accommodating. Watching proved a little easier from near the rear of the Shane Warne stand (though courtesy of a friendlier viewing angle).
The hosts’ promising start was soon checked as Craig Overton, he of the vanishing England debut, dismissed Jimmy Adams and Rilee Rossouw in quick succession. Bowling in tandem with the probing left-arm spin of Jack Leach, Overton throttled the run scoring too. Opener Liam Dawson fell leg before wicket soon after to a low delivery from Tim Groenewald, and Somerset began to haul themselves back into the contest.
Punters continued to drift in as the middle session progressed but the overall number in attendance largely remained the same. As the sun made its way behind the Shane Warne stand, the members section (previously well populated) begun to look a little sparse as the regulars headed home.
The development of a small queue at the electric turnstiles upon the advent of the interval highlighted that some were not hanging around for the floodlit session. Old habits die-hard I guess. Scheduling a nine o’clock finish may prompt some after-work spectators to a day’s play, but the discovery that none of the regular food outlets were open, and the atrium’s restaurant finished serving food at 6pm, did not sit well with the new playing schedule.
On the field, Hampshire similarly experienced a few issues as the second break approached. Somerset’s bowling continued to ask questions and runs were scored at a premium; the hosts eventually reached the second interval at just 157-4 from 64 overs.
The arrival of the second interval prompts a few thoughts on the subject. Cricket’s embrace of the day-night contest for the first-class game provokes some ambiguity regarding how one refers to the two breaks. The match scorecard simply refers to them as lunch and tea, in time honoured tradition, but lunch at four o’clock seems rather incongruous.
Meanwhile, the public address announcer preferred the term ‘interval.’ First and second interval seemed rather arbitrary and clinical for the breaks though and one began to ponder on references from similar contests that listed dinner and tea as the preferred options – the former provides a rather formal, almost regal sense of occasion. Perhaps dinner should be the reference for the first break with the rather frivolous supper used for the second?
Whatever the why’s and wherefores of such matters, the potential twilight nature of the final session was firmly highlighted by the floodlights being switched on and reaching maximum lux during the break, despite the natural light remaining excellent.
During the build up to the round of floodlit fixtures, many focused on whether the pink ball would swing in the evening session. However, Somerset utilised the beguiling, twirling brilliance of Jack Leach to stamp their authority on the contest when play resumed.
With a chilly breeze drifting across the ground Leach induced thin edges from both Sean Ervine and James Vince to end obdurate innings from both and leave Hampshire’s lower order exposed.
Wicket-keeper Lewis McManus and veteran bowler Gareth Berg offered further obduracy but the new ball accounted for both as Somerset looked set to bowl out their hosts. Erstwhile South African international Kyle Abbott indulged in some late humpty in a mini tete-a-tete with Craig Overton as Hampshire passed 200, to ironic cheers from the hardy crowd, before skipper George Bailey mischievously declaresd on 211 with one wicket remaining. The Somerset openers therefore had half a dozen overs to survive as the sun began to set.
Bailey’s tactics proved something of a surprise but ultimately didn’t succeed as Somerset’s opposite ends of the spectrum openers – the seemingly ageless Marcus Trescothick and the debut making Tom Byrum – reached the close of play without losing their wickets. They chipped eighteen runs off the hosts’ lead in the process too.
Through the gloaming of near dusk one was able to ponder the events of the previous few hours. The concept of day-night championship cricket actually proved most enjoyable. Being able to saunter up after a day’s work was particularly agreeable.
The onfield action may have proved a little stodgy at times, but those are the vicissitudes of spectating at sporting events. The evening also possessed a different atmosphere to the usual dusk contests of the T20 Blast. Those in attendance are cricket connoisseurs, students of the game, as opposed to just attending under the auspices of a night out.
Some aspects of the experience weren’t so palatable though. In truth, the occasion appeared a little lost in the vast acreage of the Ageas Bowl. The ground is built for sell out test matches or international T20 affairs and Hampshire’s contests seem almost pathetic amongst the concrete, bluff and buster. Maybe those who attended the more intimate venues such as Northampton, Canterbury or Hove enjoyed a more integrated experience.
Following the ball also remained a tricky prospect, even after Somerset took the new one after eighty overs. Curiously, the predictions of said ball hooping around corners in the evening session didn’t quite come to fruition as the bowlers were offered little assistance (not that Somerset needed any) aside from the odd low bounce and lifting delivery as dusk approached.
The lack of total darkness also detracted a little from the occasion. Mid-summer may seem the obvious choice for day-night fixtures but that inky blackness that makes evening spectating so intriguing was never present.
Despite these issues, rarely does any new venture pass without teething problems. One hopes that the round of day-night fixtures are to remain in the calendar as they provide something different. They might even attract a new audience to the county championship – a refreshing change as the authorities usually only focus on attracting a new audience to T20.