Plunket Shield gears up for pink-ball cricket

The floodlit Plunket Shield fixture at Eden Park is significant because the ground is expected to host a day-night Test against England next March © Getty Images

New Zealand will join the floodlit first-class era when the latest round of Plunket Shield matches begins on Monday. Fixtures will be played under lights with a pink ball at Eden Park in Auckland, Seddon Park in Hamilton, and the Westpac Stadium in Wellington – the latter becoming New Zealand’s newest first-class venue.

New Zealand’s domestic first-class game is reasonably late to join the floodlit fray. There had been plans to stage a round of the Plunket Shield under lights last year but those fell through due to issues with the lighting in Napier. Seddon Park has previously hosted a New Zealand inter-squad practice game before their day-night Test against Australia in Adelaide and a minor association match last year.

The Eden Park match will take on particular significance because the ground is slated to host a day-night Test against England next March. There had been talks of hosting South Africa for a floodlit Test this season, but the delay in scheduling a round of first-class matches held that back.

The Westpac Stadium is being used because the Basin Reserve, Wellington Firebirds’ main home ground and the Test venue in the city, does not have floodlights, while the main ground at Eden Park has not staged a domestic first-class match since 2005. The outer oval is normally used for Plunket Shield matches.

New Zealand were part of the first day-night Test, against Australia in Adelaide, although they had to be offered reciprocal deals for future matches against Australia to be willing to accept. The game lasted three days on a well-grassed surface – designed to protect the pink ball – and was deemed a significant success. There have since been three further floodlit Tests: between Pakistan and West Indies in Dubai, Australia and South Africa in Adelaide, and Australia and Pakistan in Brisbane.

Mike Hesson, the New Zealand coach, believes that day-night Test cricket has a long-term future in the game, although in a limited capacity. “It’s going to happen, it won’t be all the time, but the odd day-night Test is exciting and brings in a different skill set,” he said. “We’ve had an experience with it and there are some nuances; so if our first-class guys can get some experience in it before playing Tests, then great.”

It remains to be seen whether New Zealand is a suitable location for day-night Tests, given that the long daylight hours in the summer and a cooler climate than Australia could make evening viewing an uncomfortable spectator experience. These are similar to questions faced by English cricket, which enters the day-night Test era in August.

Auckland, generally the warmest centre in the country, is probably the most suitable option, although Eden Park has not hosted a Test since India’s visit in 2014 and only one other, against England, since 2006 when NZC opted to move the longer-format to smaller boutique venues.

To ensure a longer term for Test cricket in Auckland, discussions are currently underway on building a new venue in the Western Springs area of the city or developing the smaller outer oval at Eden Park into an international-standard ground.

If the Test next year is rubber-stamped as a day-night fixture, it will be England’s third under lights following their first against West Indies, at Edgbaston in August, and an Ashes Test at Adelaide in November.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.


Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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