England v Pakistan: How do you solve a problem like bad light?

By Matthew HenryBBC Sport at the Ageas Bowl

The second Test between England and Pakistan at the Ageas Bowl will be remembered for one thing: the weather.

Bad light and rain ruined the match. It was the shortest Test in England since 1987, with the stoppages making a positive result impossible.

The issue of bad light forcing the players off the field - and an apparent lack of urgency from officials to get them back on it - was a major talking point throughout.

"Disgraceful" and "appalling" were two words used to describe the situation.

After all, there has been more effort to get cricket played in this coronavirus summer than ever before - and at great expense.

It is undoubtedly a bad look for the game. So what can be done about it?

Get brighter floodlights

Bad light is one of cricket's oldest problems.

In recent years, floodlights have been used to help play continue for longer but, bizarrely to outsiders, play is still halted when artificial light overpowers natural light.

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew thinks improving floodlights is the "first place to start", while England captain Joe Root says a minimum standard of floodlight should be introduced worldwide.

"When these lights [at the Ageas Bowl] were put in, they will have been state of the art, but these things do get quickly taken over by new technology," Agnew said.

"Test grounds need the latest high-intensity floodlights and they have to get on there and play to the close using them."

Hampshire chairman Rod Bransgrove said the floodlights are "more than fit for purpose", but that he has considered "creating more wattage".

"I haven't heard any complaints directly linked to the floodlights," he said. "The issue is the response to light - and at what stage we respond to it. That seems to be the crunch point."

Be flexible with the times

On paper, the easiest step to playing more would be to alter the start time.

In England, a Test rigidly begins at 11:00 BST regardless of the weather forecast. Issues for broadcast schedules and fans' travel arrangements are often cited as reasons for this.

But on day four in Southampton - with no fans in the ground - two hours of good weather before 11:00 were wasted. Rain arrived at 12:00 and forced the players off after 10 overs. The teams were not seen again all day.

"Wouldn't it be great if they said 'we've missed cricket so tomorrow we'll start at 10:30'?" said Vaughan.

Former England women's bowler and BBC cricket presenter Isa Guha said: "In golf they look at the weather and bring the tee times forward if needed.

"Broadcasters are happy to be flexible, especially in the current situation.

"There would be an argument about the dew in English conditions, but after rain there is also a bit of moisture. Just deal with it."

Change the ball

The colour of the ball used in Test cricket is the most discussed option for solving the bad light issue. The traditional red ball is regarded as difficult to see in gloomy conditions and under floodlights.

Pink balls are used in day-night Tests and former England captain Michael Vaughan says they could be used in all Tests to allow the game to continue when light is an issue.

Test Match Special commentator Simon Mann suggests trialling using a red ball until the light fades, then swapping it for a pink ball - and switching back if the light improves.

"I know it would not be to everyone's liking but bad light should be a thing of the past," Mann said.

"We have got to find ways of playing rather than not playing."

James Anderson and Stuart Broad, England's two leading wicket-takers, said during the second Test that they were against the idea.

Whether the pink ball is used all or some of the time, there are other problems - it behaves differently to the red ball and is often said to lose its shape and hardness more quickly.

"I don't think the pink ball is the answer," Agnew said. "The red ball is the proven model for what makes a good game of cricket."

Change the mentality

The main reason umpires stop play for bad light is because they deem it is "dangerous" to continue.

Former England spinner Phil Tufnell says, although safety is the priority, the increased use of protective equipment should allow play in gloomier conditions.

"If is gets really dark then play should stop," he said. "It is those spells where there are subtle dips - that is where you might have to just plough through.

"We are playing a dangerous game. When I went out to face Curtly Ambrose at 12:30 in the afternoon it was dangerous - and that was bright sunshine."

Bad light stops play
Play was stopped on day two shortly after Mohammad Rizwan (far right) had hit Stuart Broad through the covers for four

The umpires take a reading on the light meter and the level recorded when they first take players off is used as a benchmark for the rest of the Test.

Former England batsman Marcus Trescothick says that level should be lowered. "It seems stupid that we play day-night cricket, but when the lights come on and it's a red ball that we go off so quickly," he said.

Tufnell says it requires a change in mindset from players and umpires.

He said: "Back in the day we were playing so much cricket - one-day cricket, three-day cricket, Tests - that when you did see a bit of bad light you thought 'let's go off, I'm a little tired'.

"Nowadays with central contracts, this is the event - this is the Test match. There needs to be an attitude change - they have to be a little more up for it.

"Let's get out there and play. Just get the game on."

Impose financial penalties

Despite all the headlines for the wrong reasons over the past week, Vaughan says "until money comes in to play, I don't think anything will be done about it".

He suggests if a period of play is lost to bad light, organisers must return money paid by broadcasters to cover the Test.

"The broadcast deals are huge," Vaughan said.

"If the bosses of all TV channels who have written cheques got together and said 'if we go off for bad light we want a percentage of the money back', I would guarantee a solution would be considered very quickly."

Given how long the debate about bad light has been going on, one thing seems certain: it won't be solved any time soon.

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