TONY COZIER: Lost on Windies
CRICKET’S momentous happenings in the other parts of the planet have largely passed the West Indies by.
Preoccupied by their own habitual infighting, the latest involving the board and the relevant governments and the suspension and reinstatement of head coach Phil Simmons, the initial day-night Test match in Adelaide, widely hailed as a triumph and the likely saviour of the enfeebled traditional format, received scant attention in the media.
So too, the increasing proposals for four-day Tests and England’s decision to experimentally tinker with one of the oldest traditions in the game for next season’s county championship, offering the captain of the visiting team the choice of bowling first without the toss or spinning the coin for the right to bat.
No eyebrows were raised over the ICC match referee’s condemnation of the spinning, three-day pitch for India’s Nagpur Test victory over South Africa that is likely to draw a fine. The view here was, so what’s new?
Coverage of the start of the West Indies team’s Test tour of Australia was decidedly and not surprisingly low key. Even those avid fans that remain are turned off by the embarrassing struggle in the warm-up match against an anonymous Cricket Australia XI that followed the preceding losses of both Tests and all three ODIs in Sri Lanka.
The introduction of Test cricket, under floodlights, with a pink ball, is the development that should interest the West Indies most. Nowhere else is it more in need of a boost.
Attendances have fallen
Only when England come, with their thousands of travelling supporters, are stands pleasingly populated. Otherwise, attendances have fallen from five to four figures.
In her first signed release since she was appointed Imran Khan’s replacement as the new manager of marketing and communications, Carole Beckford, WICB president Dave Cameron’s former personal assistant, repeated the numbers first provided in a release in September.
It gave 15 660 as the number of tourists who followed the Tests in Antigua, Grenada and Barbados last April and May, estimating the economic impact on the region of US$59.8 million.
Apart from England and India, through their sizeable investment in TV rights, sponsorship and ground perimeter advertising, the WICB relies almost entirely on takings from television deals.
Courtney Walsh, in Australia as selector with the West Indies team, was “very impressed” with the lights, the pink ball and the atmosphere of record crowds of over 120 000 in Adelaide. He looked forward to the same in the Caribbean to stimulate more support from spectators able to take in the last couple of sessions play after work.
In his column in The Times, former England captain Mike Atherton made the obvious point that a game with no audience has no future. It was a reason for the Adelaide experiment to be welcomed.
He noted the constraints – warm evenings, short sunsets, dew on the outfield – that eliminates England and, because of the dew, placed a question mark over Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.
To him, Kensington Oval ticked all the boxes. The nights are pleasantly balmy, there is little, if any dew, “the locals enjoy their nightlife” and the ground is situated within comfortable walking distance of Bridgetown.
In fact, the West Indies did introduce day-night, pink ball cricket for four matches in the first-class competition in 2010. They were at Kensington, the Sir Vivian Richards Ground in Antigua, the National Stadium at Providence in Guyana and the Beausejour Stadium in St Lucia.
It seemed an ideal trial for future remodelled Tests. Inexplicably, there have been none since.
The WICB’s reluctance to proceed with the notion is mainly dictated by times inconvenient for lucrative international television coverage. The farthest east of the Test-playing countries, West Indies’ playing hours for day-night Tests of 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. would equate to 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. in England, an hour later in South Africa, 12:15 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. in the sub-continent, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. in Australia.
Under the lights
When the new BT channel paid big money for the rights to televise the T20 Caribbean Premier League in 2014, one proviso was that the majority of matches be daytime, ideal for British viewers. The effect was a significant reduction in crowds unable to take time off from work. The following season, CPL matches, and spectators, were back where they belonged, under the lights.
Atherton is right in identifying Kensington as the ideal location for day-night, pink ball Tests. Given television’s clout, the reality is that they are highly unlikely there or anywhere else in the Caribbean. It is the same reason why even One-Day Internationals have remained just that, day matches.
Even if floodlit Tests were sanctioned, stands would not packed as a result.
Other factors have led to diminishing interest in the traditional game, not least the woeful weakness of the West Indies team. Until it becomes competitive once more against strong opposition, floodlights, vivacious dancing damsels, fireworks, sponsors’ giveaways and the other trappings so prominent in T20s won’t pull them in.
We’ll just have to make do with watching pink ball Tests from afar on our television screens.
Tony Cozier is a renowned cricket writer and commentator.