England have finally relented from 15 years of opposition to the use of floodlights in Ashes matches in Australia, as both nations push the message to the ICC to ensure maximum possible playing hours be completed over the five Tests this summer.
Floodlights have been used in Tests in Australia since 1997, but, prior to this series, England had not agreed to their employment in Ashes matches down under, despite allowing floodlights to extend the playing hours in home Tests. As recently as 2010-11, the ECB had refused to permit the use of lights, forcing players off the field the moment the umpires deemed conditions to be unfair.
However, both the English and Australian boards are currently preaching a message of intolerance for the unnecessary loss of play, following the farcical finish to the fifth Test of the previous series at The Oval, when the hosts’ chase for a fourth-innings target was stymied by the umpires on the grounds of safety despite no England batsman looking in any trouble. The ECB chairman Giles Clarke called the decision “totally unsatisfactory” and the result of “clearly unacceptable” regulations.
While the ICC’s playing conditions around the use of lights and the umpires’ discretionary powers over bad light and safe circumstances for play have not changed, the appointed officials for the Ashes will be strongly encouraged by Cricket Australia and the ECB to ensure the maximum number of overs are delivered. This includes permitting play to continue under lights and also to be stricter on the enforcement of reasonable over rates, which slowed to glacial speeds at times in England.
“Umpires need to take into account safety issues, that’s a priority, but ultimately we have to play more,” the CA chief executive James Sutherland said last month. “If the ground’s a little bit slippery or the clouds happen to be coming over, you’ve got to keep playing. There are millions of people watching on TV, lots of people listening on the radio and heaps of people who paid good money to come into the ground.
“We’ve got to keep playing, that’s our obligation to the public, and our umpires need to push the envelope and the players need to understand that we’re playing the game, we’re getting on with it. Today it might be unfair to you, and it might be an unfortunate situation that you feel disadvantaged with, but the tide will turn and the next time it happens it may well be that it’s good for you.
“The broad principle is we need to play more and we’ve been pushing that with the ICC, and we’ve been in discussion with the ECB about this summer playing under artificial light. In previous Ashes series, there’s been no suggestion of playing under artificial light, when we’re off, we’re off. But we’ve been talking to the ECB about that and it’s just a matter of getting the playing conditions right and giving the umpires the terms of reference to use consistently.”