Herbert Chapman's career as a footballer wasn't an extraordinary one but the former Arsenal manager is widely regarded as one of football's greatest innovators. Talking about a football manager in an article on cricket may seem a bit odd but Chapman played a vital role in initiating what people today call day/night cricket or floodlit cricket.
Chapman had been considering hosting football matches under floodlights at the Highbury Stadium since the 1930s. He was so fascinated to see floodlit grounds during a trip to Belgium that he installed floodlights at Arsenal's practice ground.
He passed away in 1934. 17 years later, Arsenal played their first game under floodlights. And as astonishing as it may seem, the first floodlit cricket match took place between Arsenal Football Club and Middlesex County Cricket Club in 1952. The match was a benefit to England and Middlesex spinner Jack Young.
Traditionalists didn't believe it was a viable concept and for 25 years, the match between Arsenal and Middlesex remained a one-off.
The idea of hosting floodlit matches resurfaced when Kerry Packer's experiment of 'Supertest' failed. He signed 50 of the leading cricketers of the world to play in the World Series Cricket (WSC) which was unsanctioned by the ICC. The standard of cricket was undoubtedly high but the Supertests didn't attract much of a crowd. It was both a critical and commercial failure.
The failure prompted Packer to move from Supertests to 'floodlit' one-day matches. In 1978, the WSC match between Australia and the West Indies was attended by 44,377 spectators and the idea of day/night cricket matches became an overnight success.
However, an agreement between Packer and the Australian Cricket Board put an end to the WSC which wasn't approved by the ICC.
But the marketing potential of floodlit cricket couldn't be denied as people seemed to have liked those colourful jerseys, white balls, black and white sight screens and multiple camera angles. In 1979, the first-ever floodlit ODI took place between Australia and the West Indies.
India hosted a day/night ODI in 1984 and it was the first time an international cricket match was held under floodlights in the Indian subcontinent. Before the start of the 21st century, almost all the Test-playing nations had hosted day/night international matches.
But the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) was always against it since the difference in climate made the application of floodlights difficult. Twilight is minimal in most countries while it was quite long in England. That meant the floodlights in England would be needed for the last hour or so even during the day/night matches. Also, it generally rains a lot in England and the ECB didn't want to spend much to install permanent floodlights because play would be stopped anyway when it rained.
Finally in 2000, Bristol County Ground hosted a day/night match between the West Indies and Zimbabwe.
Day/night cricket has contributed hugely to the popularisation of the game and now even Test matches have been hosted under floodlights. And for this, the almost forgotten Herbert Chapman and the divisive Kerry Packer deserve full credit.