21 August 2010

Save Test matches!

We have discussed the craziness of the players going off in decent light before on Cricket Burble, but it happened again yesterday and I can't help thinking it's absolutely vital now - for the successful future of the game - that something is done about it. Yesterday I was at the Oval and the light was decent all day, but there was cloud cover at all times. Mid-way through the afternoon the umpires asked for the lights to be put on.

The light hadn't changed to the naked eye - in fact it seemed better than earlier in the day - when the players were taken off after 73 overs in the day. The match situation was interesting to say the least - a game that looked like going into day 5 at tea was suddenly threatening to be cut very short by England's collapse so the authorities were looking at the prospect of having to repay some of the ticket price to the sell out day 4 crowd on Saturday if the match finished quickly.

The only explanation for the players being taken off is money - there is no doubt in my mind about that. The light was definitely not dangerous for cricket. The only explanation for the fact that players are taken off in Tests, and yet the same conditions aren't considered dangerous in one dayers or Twenty20s, is that spectators have already paid their money when the game is contained to one day, and there's no benefit to stalling the game for the authorities.

Nasser Hussain summed things up nicely on Sky when the umpires first discussed the light a few minutes before they took the players off. Talking to Michael Atherton, he said "You are joking Michael, this is rediculous, they can't be chatting about light surely?" Need I say more? I hope whoever pressured the umpires to come off to ensure more money in the coffers had trouble sleeping last night but somehow I doubt it - he or she probably thinks they did a brilliant thing as money is the only thing that counts it seems.

But the future of Test matches is at stake. I haven't been to a Test for a few years because of the bad light issue, and it happened again when I went back to try again. Why should people like me keep returning? Perhaps a campaign is required?

SAVE TEST MATCHES! Play in the same standards of light in all 3 formats of cricket - it's either dangerous or it isn't!


Anonymous said...

And the moon landings were shot from behind the grassy knoll? Kidding. I understand your frustration as a spectator, but the accusation is serious - that the independent umpires appointed by the governing body colluded with the ECB/Surrey CCC for financial reasons, and moreover in a way that may influence the outcome of the game. Perhaps Pakistan will forfeit in protest at the bias!

Picked up on this via twitter FYI. You shld post links more frequently.

Matt G

Ed said...

There are 3 other possible explanations I suppose matt. 1. Umpires realise that the money men will be pleased if they extend the game, so they do it without coercion but with career progression in mind. 2. Umpires genuinely think that coloured clothing makes the players safer. Or 3, they were swayed by Swann who was asking to go off because England were struggling rather than because he felt in danger.

Do you think it might be 2?!

Anonymous said...

Or light meters did indicate a detioration against prior readings for the day. Umpires then either applied the ICC guidance (or thought they were applying it) and took the players off. I'm more likely to believe it's questinable application of ambiguous or poorly defined rules - for TESTS specifically. Mostly accept your point that it makes no sense given floodlit cricket, but maybe a White ball is easier to see under lights in comparison to a red ball.

I can't see that career advancement can be the motive - aren't umpires assessed vs correctness of their application of the rules?


Andrew said...

I'm with Matt on this, I don't think there's a conspiracy (do we really think the ICC could keep it a secret?).
I think there's a fourth option to go on your list, Ed.
Isn't it far more probable that it's down to inflexibility and a lack of independent thought? Conventional wisdom says that bad light is dangerous, the regulations encourage the umpires to take no chances, therefore they follow the conventional wisdom, and do what they're trained to do. There's a natural conservatism in that process, and this is the end result.

More than anything, the ICC are allergic to controversy, and I suspect that they have over-regulated this area remove the element of discretion in umpires' decisions, so that everyone, everywhere, gets the same process. They don't want another Daryl Hair-esque scenario over a bad light call. At a high committee level, maybe TV considerations maybe came into it a little, but realistically, this is far more likely to be the result of a badly thought out approach, rather than a big conspiracy.

Ed said...

There is something weird about the fact that identical conditions (I'm not talking about when floodlights are used, just the normal light that is considered dark in Tests) are considered dangerous when the players wear white, but entirely playable when they wear coloured clothing.

I've never heard of a red ball being harder to pick up than a white ball when there is a bit of cloud cover, but that is possible I guess. Surely it would have come up before if that was the case though?

Andrew said...

I agree that play is suspended a bit too easily in tests, and I think you're right in that in a one day game, there probably is pressure to get a result, whereas in a test, everyone knows they can come back the following day, so it is easy to be conservative and play it safe.
However, I don't see anything sinister in that, it is true that you can come back the next day, and again, it's probably more that the ICC is encouraging conservative decision making, rather than anything else.

There might even be an argument that it is right that there are tougher light standards in test cricket than ODIs, the latter are pretty disposable, one defeat doesn't usually matter too much (world cup matches aside), and you can turn on the lights and see the white ball ok. Whereas test matches are fewer, the red ball is hard to see under lights, and one bad result can spoil an entire series.

I understand what you're saying, that fans in the ground are getting a raw deal, and they probably are up to a point, but I suspect that the difference in standards is because one test is more important than one ODI, and that the ICC are therefore less willing to take risks, rather than anything sinister.

I guess the point that I'm trying to make in all these comments is that I don't believe in a big conspiracy to drag out test matches. I think the ICC/ECB want nice long games, but I don't think they're pressuring umpires. I think that bad policy is probably just bad policy - in life in general, it's easy to see conspiracy when people are just making mistakes.

Ed said...

Very well argued miz. I think I'm right in saying that they played long enough yesterday (just) that if they'd played the paid for number of overs on day 3, they would still have got just past the 25 over threshold for refunds on day 4.

Perhaps they could do the following if the idea is to do the right thing by the paying customer:

Publish all light readings throughout the day. I'm confident that when they came off on Friday it was NOT the worst light of the day.

Totally reappraise what is considered dangerous in all formats of cricket.

Pay per over.

Penalise in some way any player who talks to the umpires about light.

Anonymous said...

Matt again,

I think Miz's "inflexibility and a lack of independent thought" is the same point I'm making re umpires being assessed by their rigid application of rules, which don't always lead to the 'right' result. I think we're stuck with thus, however, because the only other option - namely to build in an element of umpire's discretion - arguably would make decisions more opaque and open to accusations of bias and skullduggery.

I agree that I've never heard anyone mention that a White ball is more visible - but isn't that just physics? White surfaces reflect more wavelengths of lights so you can see them better? I'm no expert.

In terms of your 4 point plan to defend spectators' interests:

1. I'd hope this information is collated already by the ICC umpire assessment panel. I agree that putting it in the public domain would demonstrate think decisions to suspend play were taken per the agreed regulations.

2. Ok. But would you also want harmonised rules in regard to intimidatory bowling also? I believe the games still diverge on this point.. but happy to be proved wrong?

3. In terms if VFM for spectators, ok - but I don't think this is practicable given the commercial realities of the game. So much reliance is placed on Test revenues by the counties - highlighted all the more by the mismanagement of domestic 20-20 this year - that they really can't afford to fund another refund scheme. I think the structure of the game means that spectators - regrettable and unfair as it is - have to be ready to take the hit to protect their game where there is genuinely a case that the light makes play impossible.

4. I have no strong feeling on this.. I suppose I'd only want to punish those who were not acting in the Spirit of Cricket.. Such that anyone understands what that means in the modern professional game.

Andrew said...

1 - Yes
2 - Have a look at it certainly, but whether or not it should be changed would depend on the findings.
3 - Maybe, but as Matt says, it could be risky. As with point 2, probably worth investigating the numbers, and basing a decision on that.
4 - There's no harm in players talking to the umpires about the light, so long as they are respectful (as per Matt's spirit of the game point) and get on with the game when told to do so. The umpires don't have to listen to them.

Pete V said...

Could it be as simple as this: During a test match the umpires can bring the players off safe in the knowledge that there are more days in the game to make up the time and get a result, unlike in an ODI / 20/20?
I know if I'd just re-mortgaged my house to buy a ticket for a day at Lords or The Oval I might not feel the same way, it seems pointless in them playing in questionable light on the evening of day one with four more to play.

Ed said...

There's a couple of points there Pete - the first is that the light wasn't questionable at the Oval on Friday. That's why I felt there had to be something else going on.

The second is that one of the previous comments suggested that umpires are assessed against their correct application of the laws - if that was the case then having more days to play with shouldn't come into it as it's either dangerous to play cricket or it isn't.

So while you may be right, if that is the case it reinforces why a wholesale change of approach is needed in relation to bad light if Tests are to thrive. Test spectators are key advocates for the sport so sending them home disgruntled most days can't be sensible for the short, mid or long-term future of the game.