Floodlighting the home of cricket was no easy task. Kristina Smith finds out that telescopic masts prove a winning delivery at Lord’s

Friday 5 June was a big day for Lord’s. The first match of the second ever ICC World Twenty20 cricket tournament, where England faced the Netherlands, took place at the hallowed cricket ground in St John’s Wood, north London.

It was an equally big day for Abacus Lighting – and the culmination of two-and-a-half years of work. The specialist firm had designed and installed four cutting-edge telescopic floodlights which met an almost impossible brief of keeping the players and TV cameras happy with its lighting levels while minimising disruption to the ground’s well-to-do neighbours by limiting light pollution and visual impact. On top of all that, wrangles over planning had squeezed the building phase to just three-and-a-half months.

Abacus’ patented telescopic mast design is a first. “There is no other structure of this size or design worldwide. The whole concept of using telescopic masts of this size is unique,” says Abacus manager of UK sports Neil Johnson, who oversaw the design of the floodlights. “We have used telescopic lighting for a number of years, but only on much smaller-scale tennis systems.”

There was a lot more than the £2.2m contract sum riding on this project. An attempt a decade ago to install retractable lighting using different technology at the Adelaide Oval in Australia ended in disaster when a stanchion gave way during construction and the scheme was abandoned.

At Lord’s, failure to meet the tight construction deadline or failure of the masts on the night would have caused serious damage to the reputations of both Abacus and English cricket.

For the uninitiated, lighting is an emotive subject in cricket. Poor floodlighting can lead to catches being missed, matches being lost and supporters being enraged for the rest of their lives. A stadium in Antigua purpose-built for Twenty20 cricket, which is a shorter version of the sport that is often played in the evenings (see box, strictly for non-cricket buffs), has suffered some serious criticism due to its floodlighting.

The MCC’s original plans to floodlight the grounds for the world tournament had been to use six temporary scaffolding-style lights, which would have been erected at the beginning and end of each season for up to five years. But amid complaints from local residents about the lighting spilling into their homes, the noise from the generators and the industrial look of the things, Westminster City Council only gave permission for the lights to be up during the World Twenty20 tournament, which meant Lord’s could not have bid for other potentially lucrative matches. So the MCC’s plans for permanent floodlights had to be brought forward.

Retractable floodlights were really the only solution. Lower floodlights cause shadowing problems that can only be solved by adding more masts, which in turn cause more light pollution to surrounding buildings. Permanent floodlights, 40 metres or more high, pose a visual intrusion.

Abacus was called in. The Nottingham-based firm, which works all over the world, was seen as the only candidate with the relevant technical know-how. But the challenges were secondary to the planning issues as the project began. There were two residents groups which Abacus and Lord’s had to win over in order to see their scheme move from the drawing board to reality. This meant consultations and explanations at every stage of the design.

“This has been the main battle that both Lord’s and ourselves have had throughout the installation,” explains Johnson. “The residents were very clued up in what they wanted and what their rights were, and they had the influence and cash to follow that through with independent consultants. In some instances they threatened litigation – although that has been abated somewhat by the fact that the lighting does what we said it would do.”

There are two elements to the floodlights design, both of which Abacus did in-house: the telescopic masts and the headframes.

Johnson makes the masts’ design and construction sound very simple.

“We are using technology that is tried and tested, similar to the technology used in cranes and hydraulic platforms,” he says.

Even so, Abacus tried and tested the technology further when it invested in a full-scale working model, costing £250 000, which went up outside the firm’s Nottingham factory in April 2008. At Lord’s it takes 20 minutes for a double-acting hydraulic ram, with a 180 mm diameter bore and a stroke length of 6.4 m which delivers up to 40.7 tonnes of lift thrust, to push the lights up from their lower level of 29.6 m up to 48 m.

There is no other structure of this size or design worldwide. The whole concept of using telescopic masts of this size is unique

The configuration of the lights in the 10.8 m by 5.9 m headframes, which Abacus designed with a curve to mirror Lord’s love-it-or-hate-it media centre, was an equally painstaking process. Each 2 kW daylight lamp produces 220 000 lumens to meet the lux standards necessary for HDTV broadcast. Then there is the delicate task of providing enough light at the boundary for the players without annoying residents.

Each headframe has 100 Challenger 3 floodlights, each of which can have different beam widths or louvres fitted. The variations are endless and must be selected using a CAD design system. The resulting illumination levels are near-perfect: 2200 lux over the central wicket, 1800 lux over the inner field and 1300 lux over the boundary.

In January Westminster Council granted planning permission and work began on site. According to installation manager Tony Staten, precision planning and prewiring of the cabinets – seven for each mast – and partial prewiring of the headframes all speeded up work at the ground.

Up in Nottingham, Abacus started the 10-week process of fabricating the masts, while down in London, Staten oversaw the construction of four piled foundations around the ground, each one individually designed by structural engineer Collins Hall Green.

Contractor All Foundations had to proceed with care, especially at the foundation near the Full Toss Bar where piles had to be installed either side of a Victorian sewer. This is the only part of the job that Staten admits caused him concern. “There were no other nerve-wracking moments as the work had to be well planned,” he says.

The job involved constructing four small fenced-off sites, which meant safe working was a priority, as was daily liaison with the Lord’s Estate Office to make sure the ground’s business could continue. There were also those sensitive neighbours to consider, so no early starts were possible.

And to make life really interesting, the site is surrounded by red routes, which meant no reversing out for the 45 ft articulated delivery lorries and cranes.

Once the foundations, cabinets and cables had been installed, Abacus was ready for the masts which came to site in three sections: the pedestal, which was slotted onto bolts set in the concrete foundations, the telescopic part of the mast and the headframe, which had its 100 floodlights fitted on the ground.

At one point the massive 500 tonnes crane that erected the masts had to cross the Lord’s Nursery pitch, on a steel track road laid over the turf, with an 80-tonnes crawler crane passing the mast to its bigger workmate. Mobile elevated platforms 62 m high carried Abacus’ workers up to bolt the masts and headframes into place.

Finally each of the 400 floodlights had to be individually aimed using a gun sight, followed by extensive testing, including checking lighting levels at various heights and locations around the ground and thermal-imaging surveys on the wiring.

For the Abacus engineers, the moment when they pushed the button to raise the lights may not have been as nail-biting as you might imagine. Because although the Lord’s masts at 48 m high are indeed the highest of their kind in the world, Abacus also installed 40 m-high telescopic masts at the Al Shamal Stadium in Qatar in December last year and 45 m lights at the Brit Oval in south London, in tandem with the Lord’s project.

The Lord’s floodlights’ first public outing was on 27 May when the Middlesex Panthers met the Kent Spitfires. All ran smoothly then, as it did on the night of the first international – until, sadly, England unexpectantly lost to the Netherlands. A home loss but it was certainly a victory for Abacus and for UK engineering, and a technical feat that the firm will hope to repeat at grounds around the globe.

Originally published as "OWZAT!" in EMC Jul/Aug 2009

Sexing up cricket

Twenty20 cricket. What’s that then?
It’s a special short game of cricket with each team having a single innings and batting for a maximum of 20 overs.

So less boring than the standard version?
It takes a lot less time, if that’s what you mean. A game usually lasts two-and-a-half hours.

But I thought the whole idea of cricket was that you needed to take a picnic, if not a sleeping-bag.
Twenty20 was invented to sex up cricket and attract a new audience – city office types who didn’t want to take the day off, young people and even women.

What’s sexy about it?
Well, the teams have names like the Sussex Sharks and the Middlesex Panthers. And then there’s the cheerleaders…

I’ve heard Twenty20 is really popular in India. Did they invent it then?
Certainly not! Our very own England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) came up with it back in 2003. The first world cup was in South Africa in 2007.

Fans say I love Twenty20 cricket because of the speed and excitement of the game and the different skills and strategies employed by the players.

Critics say It’s just not cricket.