Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Light

It's one of those tricky things for cricketers isn't it, the light?

Bad light - Scotland 9.00 am
A ritual in these Isles occurs at the end of every October.  Not Halloween, although Heaven knows that is a dreadful enough ritual. No this is something worse.  It is the annual appeal against the light from those living nearer the equator who contend that the changing of the hour from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time (now known as Universal Time) is a danger to batsmen and will lead to slaughter on the roads in the Home Counties as drivers struggle to come to terms with darkness at 5.00pm and school children, disoriented in penumbra, step into the carriageway.  But cricketers nearer the Arctic disagree - lighter in the evening means darker in the morning and children would be as likely to be slaughtered on their way to school.  The answer is that people should not drive so fast.

But year after year this appeal is made and pages of the popular press are filled with the concept of an extra hour of daylight.  Who would not want an extra hour of daylight?  But this is a trick, there is no extra hour to be had, just the same hours and same amount of light.  In the North of Scotland maintaining BST through the year would mean that it would not get light until goodness knows when.  Play could not begin until well after lunchtime.

Bad light - Durban 2004
Appeals against the light are no longer part of cricket.  Nor do umpires offer batsmen the light - a shame for there is something poetic about being offered the light.  If the umpires think it is too gloomy off they go - frequently to the mystification of both teams and the ire of the paying public.  Now that most Test grounds have floodlights, you might think that play being stopped for bad light would be a thing of the past - you would be wrong, as this summer showed as umpires dragged players indoors even when the floodlights were banishing the darkness.  This is one of the charms of cricket.

But the present situation has come about to avoid military confrontation between nations.  For light used to be subject of a high level of gamesmanship when it was in the interests of one team to suspend play.  Appeals would pour out of batsmen who would grope around in the half light to make the point.  Then when the rules were changed, there were many batsmen who practiced the additional skill of soliciting an offer of light.  But no more.

Perhaps the most celebrated instance of light-centered gamesmanship came during England's tour of Australia in 1946-47   After tea on the second day of the Second Test Australia were 24/1 on a wet wicket much suited to the England bowling attack.  Sid Barnes made a series of appeals against the light - up to 12 were counted - 8 in a 11 minute period.  Eventually the umpires gave in to the constant appealing and the batsmen were allowed to retire an hour before stumps  After the series Barnes admitted that he could have played on but the match situation lead him to 'keep on appealing until the umpires answered me'.

Barnes and Bradman
on their way to 234 each
Late on the following day Barnes was joined by Bradman, battting down the order due to a leg injury. Over six and a half hours later Bradman was out for 234. Barnes was dismissed just four balls later, also for 234, having batted for over ten hours. In his autobiography, Barnes stated that the coincidence of scores was intended. He confirmed to an interviewer many years later that "it wouldn't be right for someone to make more runs than Sir Donald Bradman".  Their partnership of 405 is still a record 5th wicket stand - and is the oldest of any present record wicket partnership.

In the Third Test Barnes appealed for light at the end of the second day, which was rejected. In the final half hour of this Test England batted on when Australia wanted three wickets for their third victory of the series  Hammond had been dismissed earlier, but refused to let his team appeal against the light which in the falling rain was generally described as atrocious.  Contemporary reports suggest that Hammond acted so as to make a point about Barnes' earlier behaviour.  Who knows?

Barnes had a reputation as an eccentric and was frequently the subject of controversy. His later life was badly disrupted by depression and mental health problems and  he died in 1973, possibly at his own hand.  But gamesmanship and his colourful behaviour aside he was a great batsman - his average of 63.05 in 19 innings ranks him as number three in the history of Test cricket.   But he never had to contend with bad light.

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