MCC wants soft balls and climate-friendly pitches to save cricket’s future

A view of the new day/night pink ball and the traditional white ball during day three of the Champion County match between Marylebone Cricket Club and Durham at Sheikh Zayed stadium on March 25, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
A view of the new day/night pink ball and the traditional white ball during day three of the Champion County match between Marylebone Cricket Club and Durham at Sheikh Zayed stadium on March 25, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

MCC wants to invest millions of pounds into softer cricket balls, pitches better suited to climate change and bats made of alternative materials as part of a new research and development department that could be launched.

Research into how technological advancements can progress bats, balls, pitches and other equipment is being planned through the new department, which could launch as early as this year. As well as ramping up innovation within the game, the new department will also seek partnerships with companies through a ‘Dragons’ Den’-style pitching process.

MCC has identified that cricket faces a series of crises which will affect how the game is played. These include a global shortage of willow and cane, the two primary materials that bats are made from and the impact of climate change, creating an urgent need to beef-up the sport’s research and development.

The sport is also being viewed as falling behind others in the technological arms-race, with advancements made in golf identified as a prime example of where cricket should look to develop.

In a new paper produced by the MCC Laws sub-committee, it describes how “Cricket, as a sport, is poorly-placed for long-term research” and advocates for MCC to be given a research and development department with the clout to shape the game.

MCC believe that the International Cricket Council (ICC) have failed to embrace such a role, writing that the “ICC have indicated that they are also ill-equipped and disinclined to take charge of any initiative.”

Where has cricket fallen behind?

One issue that has been identified is the quality of the pink balls used in day-night Test matches. Those currently used have been criticised for deteriorating relatively early in an innings.

Day-night Test matches attract about 25 per cent more viewers than day Tests, meaning that more day-night Tests could help to make the five-day game more commercially viable across the world. A better quality pink ball would assuage concerns from players and administrators about day-night matches.

A general view of play during the firt sunset of a day/night test match during day one of the Third Test match between Australia and New Zealand at Adelaide Oval on November 27, 2015 in Adelaide, Australia
Pink balls are only currently used in day/night Test matches - Getty Images/Daniel Kalisz

Improving the quality of the white ball used in limited-overs cricket is also mentioned in the MCC document, while the need to make cricket equipment more affordable, making the game more accessible at all levels, is identified as of critical importance.

MCC has drawn a comparison with golf’s R&A, which entered research and development in 1998 and now has an R&D team that employs over 40 people.

While nothing has been agreed as yet, the concept will be discussed at the MCC World Cricket committee meeting, which begins on June 26. Should a consensus form that MCC should pursue the idea, the R&D department will produce a business plan for tabling at the October World Cricket committee meeting, with a Main Committee endorsement made soon afterwards.

The document suggests a series of potential ways for MCC’s role to develop, including funding more academic research, research competitions, and an MCC Annual Cricket Leadership Conference. It also suggests more partnering with manufacturers, including a ‘Dragons’ Den’-style process, in which companies pitch for funding for specific projects, while maintaining MCC’s independence. Money made from successful investments could then be reinvested in other projects.

The document identifies this year as ‘year zero’, which will see MCC create an R&D sub-committee and begin working on partnerships with academic institutions worldwide. It is then hoped that the first results from MCC research will be seen as early as 2024, with MCC Conference of Cricket launching in 2026. By 2028, it is suggested, the R&D department will be standalone, generating sustainable revenue.

“MCC is involved in key areas concerning the development and evolution of cricket as a global game,” Jamie Cox, MCC Director of Cricket, told Telegraph Sport. “It has led on various areas of the game, like R&D, and will always want to be at the forefront of critical discussions as part of its Cricket Committee.

“R&D isn’t a new area of interest for MCC and the work it has done previously around slow play is just one example of this forward-thinking approach. There is a necessity for more R&D in the game and it is important to discuss how we collectively meet that challenge.

“The World Cricket committee, which starts at Lord’s on 26 June, will provide another great opportunity for key matters in world cricket to be debated and R&D will be an agenda item along with other important matters facing the game currently.”