One of the boldest steps taken by the International Cricket Council (ICC) recently was the approval of day-night Tests. It’s a bold step because, in general, people are hesitant to change and, especially, a change to a tradition which has been followed since the inception of the game.
With T20 games becoming extremely popular amongst fans, there’s been a worry whether Test cricket still holds a place in this day and age. Players still feel that Test cricket is the ultimate judge of their skill. There are fans that still love the purest form of the game over any of the abridged versions, but receding crowds in most of the Test venues across the world has added to the fears.
The way the world is moving on right now, it would be really hard to expect a large crowd at most venues during Test matches. It is really impractical to expect people skip office work and watch an entire day’s play during week days. We are heading into an era where we will have an increasing number of fans following the game online rather than come to the stadium and watch the game.
During the first Test between Australia and India at Mohali in 2010, when VVS Laxman was staging one of his epic rearguard actions, the number of viewers following the game on ESPNcricinfo was too much for the website to handle, causing it to crash. It’s sad that the crowds at the stadiums have reduced, though the number of fans following the game has not. We have an increasing number of people who keep a tab open on the browser and follow the game live ball-by-ball. Maybe, that would give us a real indicator as to how much Test cricket is being followed around the world.
Having said that, the decision of the ICC to allow day-night Tests is a good one. For one, it may add a new perspective to the game, with the game starting at dusk and then extending into the night. The way the batsmen cope with the gradually changing conditions would be really interesting to observe. It can also bring in a lot more spectators to the game as well; people returning from their offices can go and watch the game too. But there are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with before implementing at the international level. The colour of the ball has been a major discussion. Pink balls have been tested and seem to be successful, but until we have a large enough sample size we will not be able to pass any judgment.
Another problem they will have to look into is venues where day-night Tests can be accommodated. It will be pretty hard to stage in the subcontinent; as the evenings sets in, dew comes into the picture, which can provide undue advantage to the batting side. One way to look at the dew factor is that since it is a Test match, both teams will have to counter the dew while bowling, unlike in ODIs where the side fielding second is at a disadvantage. But the fact is, with the dew in, spinners will find it hard to grip the ball and pitches in the subcontinent being heavily favoured for spin bowling, it could totally negate the effectiveness of a bowler.
With the advent of T20, it is going to be interesting how the coming generations of cricketers are brought up. Will they adhere to the tradition of Test cricket? Or will they just prefer playing the shortest format? It’s like driving a car: if you just want to drive a car, you can always opt for an automatic vehicle, but if you truly want to be a master of it, one has to learn how to shift gears according to the prevailing conditions.
In my younger days, nothing intrigued me more than waking up early on a cool wintery morning, sipping a cup of tea to watch a Boxing Day Test live. Maybe, the time has come for a change. Maybe, it is time to accept that it will be hard to attract large crowds for Test matches in the stadiums. But with growing technology, we are heading into an age where we will have more followers online.
(Rohit Ramachandran Poduval is a classical leg-spinner, writer and software engineer)
First Published: March 6, 2013, 8:10 am