Yorkshire v Surrey: Debate opens on whole new pink-ball game at Headingley

Lighting up: England and Australia walk out to play under floodlights for the first time in a Test on these shores at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff in 2009.
Lighting up: England and Australia walk out to play under floodlights for the first time in a Test on these shores at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff in 2009.
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YORKSHIRE chief executive Mark Arthur admits that he has reservations about the pink-ball experiment as the club prepares for its first day-night County Championship match.

Yorkshire take on Surrey at Headingley in the inaugural round of pink-ball Championship games from 2pm today.

The experimental fixtures are designed to help England players such as Yorkshire’s Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow prepare for the first pink-ball Test in this country against the West Indies at Edgbaston in August.

But although confident of an interesting spectacle at Headingley this week and quite possibly an improved crowd, Arthur will reserve judgement on the pink-ball experience before nailing his colours to the mast either way.

“I’m probably there to be convinced,” he admitted. “I like to believe that I’m forward-thinking as a person, but I’m also very much a traditionalist, and you’ve got to give me a really good reason to change something.

“Why are we doing it? Do our customers want it? Do the players want it? There are so many unknowns. When it comes to pink-ball Tests, is the television audience going to suddenly double? We can’t sit here and second-guess what might happen.

“This week’s matches are a departure, an experiment, and let’s see how they do, but you’ve got to be careful with one-offs because everybody will be attracted to them.

“I’m sure that our audience this week will be better than it would have been if it was an 11am start, but I don’t think we’ll be able to conclude very much after the Surrey game and we certainly won’t be getting carried away.

“You must never forget the paying customer; everything has to be done with the paying customer in mind.

“I’m personally to be convinced that it’s the way forward for Championship cricket. As for Test cricket, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Yorkshire CCC chief executive, 
Mark Arthur

Yorkshire CCC chief executive, Mark Arthur

Arthur believes that pink-ball Championship games could serve a purpose going forward should they help England players on the Test match stage.

Increasing numbers of day-night Tests are being arranged to help boost audiences around the world.

But he warns that traditional Championship cricket-watchers may not embrace the concept should it advance beyond its one-off status this summer.

The Championship has an ageing demographic – the average age of the Yorkshire membership is around 69 – and it remains to be seen how many new fans will take to the pink-ball experiment simply because they can come after work or after school.

I like to believe that I’m forward-thinking as a person, but I’m also very much a traditionalist, and you’ve got to give me a really good reason to change something.

Yorkshire CCC chief executive, Mark Arthur.

“My own personal view is that unless you’re doing this for England, it shouldn’t become the norm because Championship cricket, by and large, is watched by those people who are retired or have got a bit more time on their hands,” said Arthur.

“Quite a number of our members don’t like the late finishes, and you can understand that, so you’d only do it if it was a request for England rather than to try to generate a crowd.

“I’m sure we’re going to get a good crowd at Headingley because it’s new and we’re doing a special incentive for people to come after 5pm and Under-16s as well. But, looking at it in the normal run of things, this is probably a one-off unless England want further practice.

“These are my personal views, however, and not necessarily those of the Yorkshire board, so others might have different opinions. But if you ask a cross-section of our members, they like 11am starts and 6.30pm and, at the very latest, 7pm finishes – not 10pm finishes.

“Late at night, you’ve got issues with public transportation and some of the elderly people don’t want to be leaving a ground at 10pm and making their way home, especially in a county like ours which is so large.

“Some people make daily trips from the east coast, for example, and I think that’s asking too much of them, personally.

“This is a departure, an experiment, and let’s see how it does. But in cricket we’ve got different products for different audiences.

“The Championship is there to bring players through to play international cricket/Test cricket, which is still the pinnacle of the game, and the traditional audience is the older group of people.

“In the final analysis, pink-ball cricket is only worth doing if all the England Test players are actually free to participate in that round of Championship games.”

Arthur believes that Test cricket in England is in rude health but accepts that is has encountered problems overseas.

He feels that there is a much wider debate to be had about how to boost the appeal of the five-day game.

“I think that Test match cricket in this country is very much alive and kicking,” he said. “I don’t see any issues with it at all.

“The issue is more overseas, and if they believe in the sub-continent, Australia, South Africa or the West Indies that by introducing the pink ball they are going to get greater audiences, then we would probably have to have the odd pink-ball game here in order that our lads are getting enough practice.

“But I think that it’s a wider debate and that the ICC will determine what is best for the game,

“One of the reasons I’m very pro the new T20 tournament, for example, is because I believe that it will spread the appeal of cricket into future generations. Over a period of time you introduce them first of all to the short form of the game and then you graduate that group of people over the years into 50-over cricket and then into Test match cricket.

“It’s the job of cricket to create products for everyone.”

An extraordinary general meeting will be held in the Headingley Long Room at noon today for the purpose of increasing the club’s borrowing powers to £43m.

The meeting, which is expected to be a rubber-stamping exercise, will help Yorkshire press ahead with plans for a new main stand that will keep international cricket at Leeds.

The new main stand will be shared with Leeds Rugby, who are also building a new south stand.

The ground will be open to members attending the EGM from 11.30am; only those who have been members for more than 12 consecutive months prior to the meeting can vote.

Joe Root attempts to take a catch during a nets session at The Gabba, Brisbane on Tuesday (Picture: Jason O'Brien/PA Wire).

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