Chris Waters: Championship is far from being left in the pink

Colour change: Tim Bresnan and the pink ball.''Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Colour change: Tim Bresnan and the pink ball.''Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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SO, how was it for you?

Were you tickled pink, or did you find it all a bit of a stink?

Unfortunately, as one is being given increasing reason to point out, some of us will not stand idly by while the totalitarian regime toys with the Championship, apparently on a whim.

Chris Waters

The pink ball experiment certainly brought a touch of novelty to the latest round of Championship games.

Yorkshire’s match against Surrey at Headingley was one of nine day/night Championship fixtures around the country, with all of the counties involved.

The games produced three results, including a couple of nail-biting finishes, but the weather did not play pink ball everywhere.

At Headingley, the last two days were washed out as it all became a bit of a damp squib.

The thinking behind the concept was to help the England players prepare for the first pink ball Test in this country against West Indies at Edgbaston in August.

For Yorkshire, this meant that the lesser-spotted Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow were available for a rare outing, although the weather restricted Root to an innings of 12 not out and prevented Bairstow batting at all.

Gary Ballance also did not bat after England withdrew him after two days to go and captain England Lions.

That decision was taken beforehand, however, with the colour-blind Ballance denied his one chance to test himself against the pink ball prior to the Edgbaston Test.

As for the experiment per se, there is nothing wrong with trying new things. However, one has to question the rationale.

If, as was stated from the start, this round of Championship games was to help the England players prepare for the pink ball Test, then the logical conclusion is that the match at Headingley was being played solely for the benefit of the two Test players involved – Root and Bairstow.

It certainly was not being played for the benefit of the spectators, the other players, the clubs or the Championship.

It was, as ever, an idea driven by the England and Wales Cricket Board and the overarching interests of Team England.

Unfortunately, as one is being given increasing reason to point out, some of us will not stand idly by while the totalitarian regime toys with the Championship, apparently on a whim.

It is not enough that the matches have been cut this year from 16 per county to 14; that games are shoe-horned into the start and end of each season to make room for T20; that England players are hardly ever made available; that some players are withdrawn halfway through matches and replaced by other players, and so on.

No, such debasement and devaluation of the competition does not quite satisfy big brother.

Now we must play with a pink ball regardless of whether it has any benefit to the competition, its participants and followers, and shrug it all off with a smile.

Although I sympathise with anyone who was able to come along for a few hours after work due to the later start-time, there was actually no increase in the crowd at Headingley and was never going to be.

The crowd for the first day of the Surrey match was 2,595, no more than might have been expected had the game started at the usual 11am, and perhaps even slightly down on estimates.

Although 494 turned up after 4.40pm for the start of the second session, when reduced ticket prices were in operation, that was offset by the numbers who left early to beat the late finish and the traffic home, many of them elderly supporters who are the Championship’s lifeblood.

The crowd actually thinned out as the day went on, and there were certainly no sightings of enraptured schoolchildren supervised by cricket-loving mothers on what was also a fine summer’s evening.

Leave T20 to pull in the children and families – some of whom may, in turn, gravitate to “proper cricket”, but the Championship is effectively what it is and watched by those it is watched by.

The object of day/night cricket is also somewhat defeated when it is played just after the longest day of the year and when the floodlights have less of an effect.

Conditions last week are certainly unlikely to mirror those at Edgbaston in August, which was the whole raison d’etre of the experiment.

It should also be noted that last week’s pink ball round is now followed by four red ball Tests against South Africa.

Surely Root and Bairstow would thus have been better served playing with a red ball before a red ball series and then – if we had to have the wretched thing – with a pink ball prior to the pink-ball Test. No doubt that was impossible due to the dysfunctional schedule.

At Headingley, visibility was an issue with the pink ball, both for players and spectators, while players reported that the ball went soft after the initial overs.

I could see it as it went down the pitch, but, along with my press box colleagues, often lost it as it travelled across the outfield.

Of course, some will have had different experiences and also contend that, with more pink-ball Tests being played around the world, England players need to practice with it somehow.

Yet surely there are enough training sessions, nets, tour warm-up matches or inter-squad games in which this would be possible? The Championship does not have to be messed around with.

Pink ball Test cricket may indeed have a future, particularly in other countries where the weather is better and where interest is waning.

But it looks a dubious fit for English conditions, where Test cricket sells and where the Championship stumbles along just fine, thank you very much.