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Floodlit Cricket

Throwback Thursday


The start of the NatWest T20 Blast tomorrow will give Sussex’s season a real kick-start.

There are few better places to be in the county on a pleasant summer’s evening than the County Ground during a Twenty20 game under lights.

In other sports such as football playing matches under lights has been the norm for more than 50 years. Cricket took a while to catch on. Floodlight cricket had been played in Australia since the days of Kerry Packer in the late 1970s but the English climate was thought to be unpredictable, although the odd benefit game had been played on football grounds such as Stamford Bridge.

In 1997 the ECB gave permission to three counties, Surrey, Warwickshire and Sussex, to stage 40 over games under floodlights, which were brought in on flat-bed trucks and hoisted into the night sky.

The quality of the lights were poor. Players complained that they struggled to pick up the ball when batting and in the field but there was clearly a public appetite for floodlight cricket.

After Surrey’s attempt to play the first day-night match in the country was thwarted by rain, more than 15,000 people turned up at Edgbaston to watch Warwickshire play Somerset.

Having just taken over the running of the club, Chief Executive Tony Pigott and the Sussex committee were in innovative mood. They totally embraced the concept of floodlight cricket and even rebranded the Sussex team. For the game against Surrey on August 27 1997 they became the Sussex Tigers.

The game itself was one-sided as a much stronger Surrey team cruised to a five-wicket win, but in every other aspect the match was a resounding success. The crowd of more than 4,000 was double the normal attendance for a 40 overs game despite the weather being grey and damp for much of the day. For Pigott, though, the big eye-opener was the make-up of the crowd. There were lots of families in attendance and plenty of youngsters. Cricket was finally being played at a time to suit the new audience it was trying to attract.

The following year Sussex became the first club to install permanent lights and, as the technology improved, the system was upgraded in 2010 after problems in previous years. They failed during a game against Essex in 2007 and again in 2009 when the generator-powered system packed up against Kent and the match had to be abandoned.

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