For all the disruption Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket caused in the late 1970s, the innovations it introduced changed the game forever. Packer successfully used drop-in pitches, was the first to put players in coloured kits, the first to use white balls, and the first to play matches under floodlights. As the administrators in England fumed, they could not help but be struck by the numbers of people wanting to watch day-night games.
That the idea would be tried in England was a given. The problem was that the only grounds with floodlights were almost all those used for football. There had been a trial game in 1952 at Highbury (Arsenal's home) but that was a benefit match and played in a very light-hearted way.
But in June 1980, Surrey took the bull by the horns and, backed by the Daily Mirror, staged a match under the floodlights at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge on August 24 and roped in the touring West Indies side to provide the opposition. Packer had looked at and approved the venue a year earlier when he had been scouting for possible grounds to host WSC floodlit games, and it was agreed to be an ideal location.
One problem was obvious from the off. A football ground is longer and narrower than anything used for cricket, and so even modest hits square of the wicket were an almost guaranteed six. Officials toyed with the idea of reducing a side-on hit into the stands to two runs, but eventually decided not to tinker and to play to the laws as they stood.
Micky Stewart, at the time Surrey's manager, was keen to stress that the match was more than a gimmick. "This is will be a highly competitive match and not just a staged event," he explained a month before the game.
Harry Brind, the groundsman at The Oval who coincidently had held in the same post at Stamford Bridge, was brought in to supervise the laying of a drop-in wicket. But in the end that proved too problematic and an artificial pitch was laid, and Brind admitted his contribution was limited to cutting the grass under the mat. Essex lent their mobile scorebox as Chelsea's new electronic scoreboard was completely unable to cope with the complexities of cricket scores.
Unfortunately for Surrey, they were unable to come to their own party and show off the chocolate brown kit they had had made specially for the occasion. Rain meant their Gillette Cup semi-final against Yorkshire at The Oval spilled over into a second day, and so Essex replaced them.
The game got underway at 5.30pm and West Indies made a cautious start, none more so than Viv Richards who took 15 minutes to get off the mark. Then he found his range and smashed 53 in the next 18 minutes, including 20 off four successive balls from David Acfield. Much as he had done a year earlier in the World Cup final, Collis King was even more brutal, breaking one spectator's umbrella with a flat six on his way to 56, and then Faoud Bacchus joined in with six sixes in his 87 not out. In all, there were 19 sixes and in Wisden Cricket Monthly David Frith noted that "the crowd was beside itself with joy ... after the tempo of the Test matches, this was like Stephane Grappelli in pursuit of a funeral dirge."
Set a target of 258 at 6.45 an over, Essex also started slowly, and when Neil Smith was out in the fourth over they had made only 14. Then Graham Gooch, who had earlier taken three wickets, and Ken McEwan threw caution to the wind and runs came in a rush. Gooch in particular was in an unforgiving mood, bludgeoning ten sixes including three in a row off Richards and hitting Malcolm Marshall out of the ground. McEwan was not far behind, although Gooch had more of the strike.
It was still relatively light-hearted, and when Gooch was struck on the foot by a yorker, Ray East, the perennial joker, rushed on with a bucket and pretended to re-chalk his toe-cap.
At 8.25pm the rain, which had been threatening since the afternoon, started and the players returned to their dug outs (something to re-appear in Twenty20 cricket 23 years later). They returned after ten minutes, allowing Gooch to complete a 77-minute hundred by hammering a Colin Croft full-toss for six. Soon after , the rain returned with interest and the game was abandoned. Essex won by virtue of having a faster scoring-rate (Duckworth/Lewis was almost two decades away) and Gooch named Man of the Match.
Despite the weather, the event was deemed a success. The official attendance was 11,073, although with tickets starting at £2, most of the £50,000 income came from sponsorship and 40 corporate boxes. Surrey's share, as organisers, came to around 15,000 pounds.
In the weeks that followed, Surrey expressed a desire to play a similar game against the Australians in 1981 and also floated the idea of a county competition under lights. "Many of the crowd saw the enjoyment the crowd got from the match and they must have been impressed," explained Bernie Coleman, a member of the county's committee.
On September 17, Bristol's Ashton Gate staged a floodlit match between a World XI and a Rest of the World XI in front of 7925 spectators and Bristol City FC, who made a £3000 profit, followed up with a request to the Test & County Cricket Board to stage a game featuring the Australians in 1981.
At one stage Ian Botham hit five balls, half-a-dozen of which had been specially flown in from Australia, right out of the ground, forcing organisers to send an SOS to nearby Bristol University asking for them to send over all available hockey balls. In The Times, Alan Gibson railed against a "repellent spectacle". He added: "In ten years time we shall have the pylons up at Lord's at the riots that go with them."
The following summer Lambert & Butler sponsored a county competition played at several football grounds, but it was a commercial failure and public interest was low. It was to be more than a decade before the idea of playing competitive cricket under lights was seriously raised again.
Two days after the game at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea fought out a dull 2-2 draw with Wrexham. As the game drew to a close the bored crowd chanted "We want cricket"!
(Stamford Bridge) West Indies 257 for 9 in 40 overs (Bacchus 87*, King 56, Richards 53, Lever 4-41) v Essex 192 for 1 in 28 overs (Gooch 111*, McEwan 67*) - no result
(Ashton Gate) World XI 214 in 37.2 overs (Botham 84, Gooch 68, Doshi 6-48) lost to Rest of the World 215 for 2 (Gavaskar 67, Sadiq Mohammad 64) by eight wickets
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Wisden Cricketer Monthly 1980
The Cricketer 1980