As the instant noodles generation loses interest in the five-day game, Test cricket faces the crucial hurdle of the next decade to see if it will survive to see the 150-year mark
Almost 140 years since it origin, the conventional form of “Test cricket” is losing its lustre rapidly. In India, the young population no longer has the time or the inclination to follow a five-day sport, which may not even have a result at the end. The disappointing sale of tickets and lack of spectators at the match between world’s number 1 Test side India and Sri Lanka currently being played at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens ground is reflective of how Test cricket is on the wane.
The cricket administration in India as well as the world have recognised the downward trend and are trying hard to revive and popularise Test cricket. The Test Championship League is one such initiative planned by the ICC. The League will commence in 2019 and in 2021, it should have a winner. The plan to undertake a programme to find a true winning Test side had been tabled several times by the ICC in the past decade. However, the complex task of organising one that is acceptable to all concerned did not materialise. The limited-overs version of the game has now taken the centerspot and the recovery of the purest form of cricket looks quite bleak even to its diehard fans.
The quick pace of today’s life has made it virtually impossible for one to sit back and enjoy leisure. As everything around them gains speed, young sports’ lovers find Test cricket hard to relate to. Australia and England are the only two countries that have kept the tradition of Test cricket alive because both these developed countries have made constructive efforts in popularising it through media and schools. They have recognised and highlighted their cricket history and made heroes of their legends. Cricket has been kept alive through tales of the past, museums and traditional events. The people in India are known to love the game of cricket. This is a statement made by one and all. Personally, I do not endorse it at all. The normal Indian is only interested in the glamour of cricket and the players playing it.
They understand very little about the nuances or the technicalities of the game but relish in the arithmetics of calculating the averages, the run-rate and other numbers associated with it. Although India is the leading Test side in the world, not many Indian followers are actually aware of it.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) needs to seriously work towards popularising Test cricket in the country. The issue is not the cricketer, as even the present lot of them consider Test cricket as the most importantform. They recognise that for them to be considered world class players, they need to be a part of and perform well in the authentic version of the game. One of the ways to make Test cricket a serious version in India is to recognise a player as an India player only and if he or she has played Test cricket. A limited-overs player could be identified as an India International without an India Test cap. This would make a Test player an elite cricketer, rather than being classified with everyone who has played the shorter version of the game. A Test cricketer, furthermore, should get a better annual remuneration. These specific changes will then make playing Test cricket more lucrative, important and prestigious.
The most important issue however, is to get people into the stadiums to watch the matches. The only way possible is to improve the hospitality and comfort at all venues. At present, watching a match at any of the Indian stadiums is an uncomfortable and tiring experience. The seats are narrow and dirty, the toilets are filthy and unhygienic and getting into the stadium is an unforgettably terrible experience. The most bewildering part however, is that once one has entered the stadium, one cannot go out and come back again. Therefore, the luxury of watching a Test match at one’s convenience is not there. In India, the smaller towns and cities as Test centres could be another option to get better crowds. The BCCI did experiment with shifting matches to such locations and Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh did prove to be a success. One wants to play Test cricket at the historical venues of India, but seeing the empty stadium at the India match at Eden Gardens, one feels sorry for the cricketers out there in the middle.
Test cricket to be recognised internationally, only if it is played as a tournament. The format could be similar to the limited overs World Cup, but between the top 6 teams, every three years. A two-month slot to complete it would be a far better proposition than a 2-year period to decide on the winner.
As a cricket lover, one is now looking forward to watching the Ashes series between Australia and England. At least one will be able to see some genuine cricket lovers watching the match. The next decade will decide whether the game of Test cricket will survive or not, and whether it will reach the 150-year mark.
(The author is a former India cricketer)