The ICC’s cricket committee is likely to discuss regulations around delays for bad light and wet weather after farcical scenes during the Test summer in England. Despite the huge efforts of all involved to ensure cricket could resume behind closed doors, the Tests against West Indies and Pakistan have been marred by frequent interruptions after the umpires deemed the light to be unfit for play.
There have also been prolonged delays in resuming after rain has stopped. This culminated in a decision to break for lunch after a delayed start and just one hour of play on the second day. On the fourth day, play was abandoned shortly before 4pm, with the ground subsequently bathed in sunshine. It is understood there was some frustration at the ECB over the decision, with one insider suggesting play could have resumed at 6pm. On the final day, the rain stopped at 11.15 am, but play did not resume until 3.20pm.
The ECB has spent heavily to ensure the return of cricket in the face of Covid-19. As well as arranging charter flights for the West Indies and Pakistan players, they have met the costs of creating bio-secure bubbles to satisfy safety concerns and convince the government – and the governments of the opposition teams – that games can be played without compromising the health and safety of all involved.
The match officials, however, have been uncompromising in their adherence to normal playing conditions. The ICC’s cricket committee is likely to discuss whether this has been an admirably consistent approach, or a little inflexible in the modern age with improved protective equipment and less tolerance for such delays from spectators.
With match officials judged on many criteria, including their ability and desire to get the game on, it is possible the team at the Ageas Bowl in particular – standing umpires, Richard Kettleborough and Michael Gough, third umpire Richard Illingworth, fourth umpire Martin Saggers and match referee Chris Broad – will marked down by the ICC for their performance.
Among the other options likely to be considered by the cricket committee will be the use of a pink ball – a decision which might impact on the colour of the sight screens in operation – and whether it would affect the integrity of the game to change the ball as required when the light fades.
The committee, chaired by Anil Kumble, is also likely to revisit protocols regarding playing under floodlights. While the lights have been used at several stages this summer, the current convention dictates that once the artificial light has taken over as the primary source, play should be abandoned. This issue was looked at by the ICC a few years ago, with the Full Member boards rejecting the idea of playing on under floodlights. It might be that floodlight technology has improved, too, allowing more play in such circumstances.
More transparency over the light meter readings is another possible area of improvement. At present, the umpires take readings by which they judge the light on subsequent days to ensure fairness to both sides. If such readings were published, or if the broadcasters and host venues were able to have access to such meters, it might improve expectations from spectators and avoid some of the frustration that has surrounded recent matches.
ESPNcricinfo understands there is are no major concerns over the venue. Drainage at the Ageas Bowl is understood to be comparable to other Test venues in England, while extra groundstaff had been drafted in from other clubs to aid preparation of the surface for the third Test – which is scheduled to begin here on Friday – and the warm-up game played by members of the Pakistan white-ball squad.
The only minor quibble concerned the length of the covering over the area where the bowlers run-ups. There were some suggestions these were a little shorter than those provided elsewhere and the delay on the fifth afternoon was lengthened by concerns over damp run-ups at the hotel end of the ground. But the application of sawdust seemed to help speed the drying process.
The ECB is also likely to review its own playing conditions. While other nations are prepared to start play earlier on subsequent days after rain, the ECB has long argued this would cause confusion with ticket holders. If, for example, a decision was taken at 7pm on Friday to start play one hour earlier the following morning, it is felt it would be difficult to communicate that information to 25,000 or so ticket holders which might, in turn, leave them open to claims of refunds from those that miss out on watching any play.
In the case of behind-closed-doors games, however, that is not a factor and it is understood there is growing momentum to change this playing condition ahead of the final Test of the summer, which starts on Friday. In the longer term, it is possible the terms and conditions of the ticket sales could cover such a scenario.
The overall impression is that many in the game’s administration, not least those at the ICC, have been stung by the criticism in recent days. As a result, “The Farce Show” – as it was dubbed by one wag – could prove to be something of a watershed moment for the sport.