Test Cricket Needs a Roof: How Many Years Will We Have to Wait for One?
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Ahead of day five of the third Test of the Ashes, it became apparent that the only way this series would have been prolonged was if Old Trafford's redevelopment had included the construction of a roof.
Having spent the day poring through the planning permissions, it appears that in fact no such provision was made when they turned the square and redesigned the stands.
But as fanciful as it sounds today, is it impossible that we'll see a roof over a Test match one day?
Transport yourself back in time by 20 years. How likely would it have seemed then that Wimbledon, that other very British summer event usually a slave to the whims of the weather, would have protected its Centre Court with a roof?
It's been such a success that Court One will soon get the same treatment.
New stadiums too have been built with retractable roofs; consider the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, which can be closed as required, or the Docklands Stadium in Melbourne, which could be opened or closed in just eight minutes.
Both those grounds have something in common—cricket has been tried there in the past.
You would be forgiven for forgetting the existence of Power Cricket in Wales, which was ever-so-slightly trumped by Twenty20 soon after, but one-day internationals were played in Melbourne, and so a precedent of sorts exists.
There were just two problems, though: firstly, the match had to be played under the floodlights, and secondly the conditions were described by cricketers as far from ideal. Here's Jonty Rhodes, back in 2005, on playing under the roof:
Because the lights are indoors as opposed to stuck on a pylon, when the ball gets hit, even at head height, you are looking up into them.
It was an awesome atmosphere but they weren't the best conditions to play in.
They'd prepared the wicket outside and dropped it in and it was a good one-day wicket, there wasn't much sideways movement.
The problems we had were with the outfield which was really soft and muddy after they re-laid it for the Aussie rules, I ended up straining my groin batting.
In future, the first part of this equation may still be a problem, or it may not. Debate continues over whether day/night Tests are actually a way of getting fans into games around the world. Trials unfold over pink balls and the like to establish whether the conditions could be made suitable for play.
Equally, as we've seen at Wimbledon, the technology now exists to cover a tennis court with a transparent roof, which broadly replicates daytime conditions. A time may come when it could be replicated on a larger scale. If it does, could you really imagine a venue like Lord's, with its quirky love of the old, the new, and the being able to guarantee that every day will see a full day's play, being able to say no to the technology?
Yes, it will doubtless cost a fortune. But as SW19 has shown, it starts to pay you back. And what you lose in rain dances and Duckworth/Lewis methods you'll get back in action in (imagine this) an Ashes result not determined by the falling of water from the sky.
I'm not expecting this to happen anytime soon—we could be a generation away, we could be two. But in a sport which has 136 years of Test match history and invites no end of nostalgia, it's worth imagining some of the more outlandish evolutions in the future.
Besides, if nothing else, there may come a time in the future when the furore over DRS has passed, and cricket fans will need something else to get upset about.
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