On Thursday, Dubai stages just the second day-night Test match ever played. Will Jones wonders whether this historic meeting between Pakistan and the West Indies signals the shape of cricketing things to come
In November 2015, sporting history was made in Australia. The 2,190th Test match to be staged since international cricket began in 1877 was the first to be played after dark, as Australia beat New Zealand in the inaugural day-night Test at the Adelaide Oval.
The experiment was deemed a success by the teams, the public and, most importantly, the cricketing powers-that-be. As a result, the UAE will this week have the honour of hosting the second ever day-night Test, when Pakistan take on the West Indies at Dubai International Stadium.
Cricket, of course, has been played after dark for years. The first one-day international to be staged under floodlights took place back in 1979, and both 50-over and Twenty20 internationals are now regularly staged partly or wholly at night.
Until last year, though, Test matches had only ever been played under natural light, chiefly due to worries about the ball. Traditional red balls are dangerously hard to see after dark, while the white balls used for 25-over stints in one-day matches get scuffed to near-invisibility during the 80-over lifespan required by five-day cricket.
But with Test attendances falling as fans favour the quick thrills of Twenty20 matches, which last only slightly longer than your average Hollywood blockbuster, radical action is required – and so day-night Tests, which are played with a bright pink ball, look set to play a big part in the sport’s future.
The two teams making history this week in Dubai are on very different trajectories. After a tremendous tour of England this summer, Pakistan reached top spot in the ICC Test Rankings for the first time, edging ahead of fierce rivals India. Led by 42-year-old captain Misbah-ul-Haq, the team has lately played with great discipline and purpose, and their ascent to the top spot is richly deserved.
The West Indies, on the other hand, are a shadow of the team that dominated cricket in the 1980s. Riven by conflict, they’re currently ranked a lowly eighth in the world, having won just one and lost 11 of their last 17 Tests.
After inflicting a pair of 3-0 whitewashes on the West Indies in the recent Twenty20 and 50-over series between the teams, Pakistan will start Thursday’s Test match as clear favourites. This week, we’ll find out if they’re as strong as night as they have been under the sun.
The first Test begins in Dubai on Thursday 13 October. The second and third Tests in the series take place in Abu Dhabi (21-25 October) and Sharjah (30 October – 3 November).