England coach Andy Flower was unhappy with the umpires’ call when play concluded owing to bad light in the recent Oval Test when England had a fighting chance of winning.
“In my opinion, it is about whether the contest between bat and ball is reasonable and fair. If the spinners are bowling, under their (ICC’s) regulations at the moment, it almost means you can play until it is dark because it’s obviously not dangerous.”
The ICC playing conditions previously allowed the batting side to call the shots, until it became too dangerous to carry on. Now, the two on-field umpires alone decide on the issue.
Does the fielding side actually have an advantage in the present scenario since it can refuse to bowl spinners in a position from where it could lose?
Former international umpire A.V. Jayaprakash, however, said to The Hindu that the present rules were effective. “When the umpires take a call, they are neutral. The batting side might have its own reasons to continue in unfavourable light. Now, the light meter reading, when umpires decide to suspend play, is shown on television. So, there is transparency,” he says.
But then, Jayaprakash quickly adds that readings are not the sole reason for umpires arriving at a decision. “It depends on a lot of other factors. The background, the nature of the stadium, whether it is open or closed, and elements of nature like fog.”
The question often asked by many pertains to play being suspended when the floodlights are on. Here, Jayaprakash recalls an interesting incident.
“The red ball is used in Tests and, unlike the white one, it cannot be seen properly in twilight even when the lights are on. In the 2002 Bangalore Test between India and England, many were unhappy when we suspended play despite the floodlights. The reason being we were using the red ball.”
The dynamics of ODI cricket, where white balls are used, is very different.
Former international umpire K. Hariharan said, “The nature of light differs from place to place. The days are long in countries such as England, but the cloud cover might be an issue. In other places, like the eastern parts of India, the light deteriorates rapidly in late afternoon.”
Often, the umpires, in a subtle manner, convey the message to the fielding captain at the end of an over that play might continue if a spinner is brought on.
Former international umpire K. Hariharan says, “The umpires, almost always, do it at the beginning of every over. Then, there is also the question of the fielding captain accepting the suggestion. Often, it depends on the match situation.”
Umpires, of course, have the authority to suspend play owing to dangerous or unreasonable conditions. “It is not the question of cricketers alone. The umpires also need to see the ball clearly. Adequate light does not pertain to the 22 yards alone. A cricketer or an umpire could get injured,” says Jayaprakash.
All light meters are uniformly calibrated. Umpires set a guideline for a Test and subscribe to it on all days for consistency. There are some questions that linger in the minds of cricket lovers — can a paceman switch to spin in the middle of an over if light deteriorates. Hariharan answers, “Although it is theoretically possible, the umpires are unlikely to agree to such a scenario. It trivialises proceedings.”
This, however, balances out. If the fielding side is within a whisker of a win, it loses out. The scenario, though, suits the team when it is avoiding a possible defeat.