When the fixtures were first released last November one must admit to glossing over the scattered selection of day night County Championship matches. The experiment had proved intriguing during the 2017 summer, enough to provoke a journey to the Ageas Bowl (a most dislikeable ground for this author) for the opening night. Indeed, the experience proved most enjoyable as the novelty of watching multi day cricket under floodlights with its subtle nuances and change of tactics proved a welcome change from the normal residents of the evening timeslot. Viewing the pink ball wasn’t quite as easy as one hoped but that was a minor quibble.
Nevertheless, one’s first thoughts centred round a box being ticked and moving on to other potential fixtures. But, as the winter nights lingered on one began to ponder such a decision. The poor, beleaguered County Championship needs as much support as it can garner. Post another Ashes disaster the county game once again found itself in the firing line for some critics. Its successes, no matter how small or humble, need to be capitalised upon and nurtured. One almost felt a responsibility to make a repeat visit to the floodlit fixture. Similar to the previous season, there were more palatable grounds than the Ageas Bowl to enjoy an evening’s cricket but none allowed for one to spend a day in the office before scampering up to one’s chosen venue ready for the second and third sessions of the day.
Thus, the visit of Yorkshire to the south coast provides an ideal opportunity to repeat the visit of twelve months previous. For a county such as Hampshire one could argue that a victory over Yorkshire arguably represents more than the twenty odd points that would be gleaned from such an achievement. The northern county’s stature and history in the County Championship perhaps adds a little more lustre to taking their scalp. Maybe only victories over the London heavyweights, Middlesex and Surrey, could be comparable; beating the former not a possibility in 2018 due to their relegation the previous season.
Victory may prove a bridge too far for the host county though in what has proved a dismal championship campaign to date. Post an opening round triumph over Worcestershire at the Ageas Bowl Hampshire have twice been routed by Surrey and also lost to Nottinghamshire, consigning them to the second of the relegation positions. The county’s problems appear obvious; on six out of eleven innings they have failed to pass 250 with the bat. Rather pertinently, Yorkshire have only recorded a point more but have played one match less. Hampshire’s batting line-up would very much be tested at some point during the second day as the visitors conclude the opening day at 315-7 courtesy of Gary Ballance’s first century of the County Championship season.
Yorkshire’s tail adds a further forty odd runs at the beginning of the second day’s play but Hampshire begin their reply in sprightly fashion, scoring at almost four runs per over in reaching 63-1 at the first interval. Feint cheers drift through the ether as this author’s journey ventures onto the premises though at the beginning of the second session and the scoreboard details that both James Vince and Sam Northeast have been skittled post the resumption in play. Indeed, scoring becomes difficult, barely twenty runs in the first hour of the middle session, as the visitors’ phalanx of pacemen bowl with aplomb. A spartan crowd seems subdued at the examination from around the wicket as southpaws Jimmy Adams and Tom Alsop are required to graft.
The Rose Bowl basks in late afternoon sunshine but appearances are deceptive. Located on something of a plateau, the ground is very much exposed to the caprice of the elements and a keen breeze proffers a sense of late April or early May rather than midsummer. Adams, evergreen and a man for all seasons, has seen it all before. He cuts three boundaries off of Adam Lyth’s off spin en route to an accomplished half century. Shackle slightly released, Adams bats with growing assurance, deft nudges and textbook cover drives aiding a steady accumulation. In contrast, Alsop is Boycott-esque in his obduracy, requiring 91 deliveries to reach twenty runs although the Academy graduate reaches the mini milestone with an audacious reverse sweep off of Lyth’s bowling. Nevertheless, the workmanlike modus operandi proves crucial as Hampshire reach the second interval without further loss at 153-3.
As per a dozen months previous the members’ section of the ground is almost deserted by the arrival of the second interval. The floodlights are switched on in preparation for the twilight session but there are few replacements in the stands as only a few hundred remain, most basking in the setting sun at the hotel end of the ground. Fortunately the club have amended their food policy an iota from the previous summer, although meals are only served until the resumption in play. Nearby Hedge End features a handful of ubiquitous fast food outlets for those wishing to eat beyond seven o’clock, although one later discovers one of the outlets under the Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie stand had remained open. In some respects the policy is understandable when one considers the modest numbers in attendance. Not even free entry for the final couple of hours can tempt any more takers.
Tykes skipper Steve Patterson turns to fans favourite Jack Brooks upon returning to the field for the final session. Sporting a Lillee-McEnroe headband, Brooks, like Jimmy Adams is one of those county pros that are the heart and soul of the domestic circuit, familiar faces to the cognoscenti if not to those who follow England and little else. Brooks bounds in and bowls with wholehearted gusto. His introduction has negligible effect though as Alsop begins to accumulate whilst Adams nears a well earned century. The moment critique arrives for the veteran with a well placed cut through point off of the bowling of Tim Bresnan, Adams’ modest celebration understating the importance of the innings in the context of the match and the hosts’ season. Alsop reaches his half-century half a dozen overs later as the hosts make steady progress amongst the lengthening shadows and the partnership passes 150.
With the floodlights gently humming away at full lux Yorkshire’s bowlers begin to edge back into the contest, a succession of oohs and aahs highlighting how bowling has become an iota easier as twilight approaches. Perhaps sensing a crucial passage of play, Patterson re-introduces Brooks. Adams remains obdurate though, his presence on the field for almost two whole days not seeming to diminish his concentration. Not even the new ball can break the Adams-Alsop partnership, although the extra bounce and movement induces a few play and miss shots from the home duo, Hampshire closing on 245-3, Adams unbeaten on 132, Alsop seventy less.
As Ben Coad’s final delivery thuds into the gloves of wicket-keeper Jonny Tattersall the digital clock on the giant scoreboard highlights that the time was three minutes past nine. Such an occurrence is interesting for more than one reason. The further one travels up the cricketing tree the longer a day’s play seems to take in this modern era. The extra half hour has all but become part of the final session rather than an occasional adjunct required to offset a tardy period of play. Thus, the advent of Yorkshire’s bowlers all but finishing the day’s play on time proves rather refreshing. If day-night County Championship cricket is to succeed from a spectating perspective then the concept can ill afford to be so liberal with time keeping as other formats of the game.
And yet, the actual time of the completion of the day’s play highlights an inherent folly with the current concept. Play may have concluded at three minutes past nine but the sun was not due to set for another twenty minutes.
Under such circumstances one ponders the policy of scheduling the round of day-night fixtures over the midsummer period. Surely the attraction of day-night cricket is the actual night portion. As the players wandered across the outfield of the Ageas Bowl toward the pavilion one questions whether the input of the floodlights was actually required. The answer would be to schedule the round of fixtures later in the summer, perhaps at the end of July or early August, in order for players and supporters to experience a genuine multi-day contest under the inky black sky of night. Such a policy would require muscling in on the T20 Blast’s current slot and that of you know what from the 2020 summer onward. And there’s only going to be one winner with regard to that particular slot in the calendar.