On 4 November, 2017, India and New Zealand faced off in a T20I in Rajkot, a match that lasted longer than the prescribed three hours, for an odd reason. One over into the Indian innings, a floodlight failure halted the game. The players and spectators then had to wait until the lights came back on, a considerable duration, as floodlights needed to heat up again first.
Instances like this could be a thing of the past thanks to new technology on show at the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand. The venue of the final, Bay Oval in Mt Maunganui, Tauranga, is the first cricket stadium in the world to install LED lights instead of more commonly used metal-halide lights. And these can be turned on with the flick of a switch, just like the LED lights you use at home, with no warm up time. While watching the group games that were held there, it was quite a sight to watch the lights to be turned on during the drinks break of the second innings, as the shadows started to lengthen.
“We have 384 lights, on six towers and each light has over 200 LEDs”, said Kelvin Jones, the General Manager (GM) for the Bay Oval Trust. “They are capable of 4300 lux (unit of light). The ICC requirement is minimum 2500 lux. So they are as good a light as you’ll see anywhere in the world” he adds with considerable pride.
As most Indian viewers are repeatedly told on television, LED’s offer more savings in terms of energy usage and longevity, and that is one reason why Jones and his team chose them, despite the initial investment being higher. “They cost maybe a third to fifty percent more than normal, but use a third less power,” he said. “They say each light lasts 50,000 hours. Traditional lights last maybe a couple of thousand hours. For us, a ground that wouldn’t even use them 500 hours a year, they should outlast me,” he adds with a chuckle.
Jones’ first name Kelvin is very appropriate to the conversation. It is also what the unit of colour temperature is called. LED lights offer a cooler colour temperature than metal-halide lights, which add a yellow tinge, especially as they age. It’s similar to lighting a room with a white tube light as opposed to a yellow bulb, the natural colours stand out more. He also says these lights are better for slow motion replays. “When you see ultra-slow motion replays, you may see a flicker, that’s the lights. These don’t flicker, so broadcasters like them.”
The Bay Oval Trust manages the cricket ground on behalf of the Tauranga council, to whom the land belongs, and they only installed the lights at the end of 2017. Jones has been associated with the ground for nearly 15 years. He laughs as he talks about the beginning. “In early days, I was the groundsman. I used to mow the outfield, look after the wickets. They were pretty average wickets in those days.
“I played cricket, not a particularly high level, then I worked in cricket. We thought the local area lacked First Class cricket in my early days of involvement. So we decided to build a cricket ground and I was in the right place at the right time.” Jones has been GM since 2015.
The process began with digging 50,000 cubic metres of sand out, and creating the bowl like shape that the ground now sits in, with grass banks at the sides. When First Class cricket was first allotted, they didn’t even have power and running water, or any permanent structures; the players and officials used tents. With funding raised from the council and corporate sponsors, the ground added more facilities every year. “Everything we did, it was with the end goal in mind, that this could be an international venue, sort of a master plan.”
That master plan took Jones to America, as he travelled to stadia where LED lights were already in use, before making the decision. “We were nervous about whether LED would work for cricket,” he said. “Football, rugby, they have a bigger ball, one that’s not very fast moving. So I travelled to the USA to watch baseball under LED lights.” Jones watched the Baltimore Orioles and the San Diego Pirates play at their home ground with LEDs, and then advised his team that they take the plunge. “It was a huge risk for us, to do something that had never been done before, so we made sure to do our homework. Seeing is believing, and it’s been everything we hoped for and more.”
Besides better luminosity, each light also has a LED visor. This takes away the glare of the light if you look at it at an angle, making it easier for fielders who are taking high catches. It means that they will not see a big ball of light, but only see those lights that are directly in front of them.
The cherry on top is the entertainment value LEDs can add. “Each and every individual light can be controlled from a small panel,” Jones says, as he presses a button and the number 4 appears on each tower, then the number 6. “So we can set them to music and do light shows. We’re looking at opportunities like concerts now that we have lights.”
With the newest addition, don’t be surprised if you see the Bay Oval hosting a Test in the near future. “That’s our dream, our goal,” said Jones with some passion. “We think we are better suited to Test cricket than lot of other venues: we have a full size boundary, it’s the right shape , it’s not a rugby stadium like Eden Park. With the lights–the best in New Zealand–we think a pink ball Test is the best opportunity to get a Test.”
The author is a former India cricketer, and now a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She hosts the YouTube Channel, ‘Cricket With Snehal’, and tweets @SnehalPradhan