Pakistan's curious affair with day-night Test cricket

Misbah-ul-Haq gets up close and personal with the pink ball
Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Dubai October 05, 2017

Two years since the first day-night Test, and for perhaps the first time in its brief history, it is starting to feel like a normal part of cricket tours. On Friday in Dubai, Sri Lanka will become the seventh Full Member to play a day-night Test, leaving India, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe as the only countries to have not played one.

Pakistan - Sri Lanka's opponents - could well count themselves veterans of the version, this being their third pink-ball Test, and all in the last year. Only Australia have played that many. It will be a big deal for Sri Lanka, who had turned down the chance to play a day-night Test on their 2013-14 tour to the UAE, but had, in fact, asked the PCB for both their Tests on this tour to be day-night.

"We are quite excited because this is our first pink-ball Test," Sri Lanka's captain Dinesh Chandimal, said. Like most countries, they trialled the pink ball in domestic cricket last season, though it was only the one game - which Chandimal played in - and not, strangely, a day-night fixture.

"It will be a good challenge for the team but I'm sure guys will take this challenge on. "

There are still a number of firsts to come around the world, occasions on when a day-night Test will still feel new and fresh. The first day-night Ashes Test this December promises to be a highlight, and next March, New Zealand will be hosting their first against England. In between, South Africa could well turn the showcase of their season, the Boxing Day Test, into the first day-night Test in the country. That will also welcome Zimbabwe into the club of those who have played. And when India eventually play their first, it will be a big moment as well.

But whereas initially day-night Tests felt like they were serving a particular purpose - to bring in bigger crowds in some markets for contests that wouldn't otherwise attract them, or simply for one side to prepare for another day-night Test - this second Test in Dubai is a day-night Test simply becauseā€¦ well, why?

Last year in Dubai, the crowds for the Pakistan-West Indies Test were zilch, or at least as low as they are for day Tests, and almost certainly would've been for that opponent. At that time though, for Pakistan it did at least serve the purpose of preparation for a day-night Test at the Gabba against Australia.

But it is not as if there will be more crowds for this Test because it is day-night. Given the particular make-up of the expatriate population, all of whom are on work visas and will not so readily have the time it takes to watch Tests, the UAE will always struggle to be a traditional Test market. Attendances for all Tests, day or day-night, are non-existent to low. That is just the accepted collateral of having to play Test cricket here. It might help that this Test starts on a Friday, which is the first day of the weekend. And it is intriguing to think what turnout may have been like for a day-night Test in Sharjah, which has, traditionally, attracted the best crowds in the country.

And because the Dubai Sports City stadium's unique ring-of-fire floodlighting system will be in use for five days, it could be argued that the Test will end up costing the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) more - it costs approximately $2500-3000 per day to use the lights - than an ordinary Test. That is not a huge concern for the PCB, who are happy enough with sales of corporate boxes for this game. What there is some disquiet about, however, is that promoting this Test, to try and attract as much of a crowd as they possibly can, has been all but absent. That, one official said, has been a casualty of the resources and time spent on ensuring the World XI T20 series in Pakistan.

All of which means that this is a day-night Test mostly because the PCB was an early adopter of the idea - their commitment to scheduling them is simply in line with that of cricket's global drive, even if circumstances seen in cricket markets around the world don't apply to the UAE.

Now the PCB are tentatively committed to playing at least one day-night Test every season at home, much like Cricket Australia, whose home summers are pretty much guaranteed to stage one and sometimes even two day-night Tests. Next October, Australia are likely to tour the UAE for a Test and T20 series (in the current FTP they are scheduled to play ODIs and T20s but the ODIs are likely to be moved to March 2019, ahead of the World Cup). The PCB is eager for one of those Tests to be day-night.

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