Sachin Tendulkar, the biggest Indian sports person of the past 20 years, if not ever, is playing, what is probably his last test in Eden Gardens. The stadium is sparsely filled, some thing unimaginable till a few years back. The attendances in the whole test were in line with the prediction of Harsha Bhogle – a disappointment. If ever cricket needed a wake up call to get it’s priorities right, it is now.
I offer three solutions to save the soul of cricket –
1. Day Night Tests – Shane Warne, the genius that he is, said around 15 years ago that his dream was to play day night tests. This is the need of the hour and an essential step cricket has to take. There are no ifs and buts about it. If a game starts at 5 PM and ends at mid night, even a man who has worked in the office who day can attend the last two sessions if not more.
There is the issue of due which will be a factor in some grounds but for me it is just one more aspect which will make test cricket even more interesting. Test cricket, at it’s core, like life, is batting the inner demons (the technique of the player) coupled with the external – the bowler and nature. When there is cloud cover, the ball swings more, when the pitch is old on day 5, it is tougher to bat. Let us see how the champion teams face up to the challenges of due, when they do arise in certain venues. It will not be a constant threat and will crop up at certain places and certain times of the year when due happens. Rather than shy away because of this and not hold test cricket at all, let us have the games, see what controversies they generate and get on with it. I am not disappointed at the trial done in the first class level with day night games and given one day cricket has been held in the night for two decades, it is time to shut out the apprehension and go for it.
2. More money for tests – An international cricketer or any sports person has a very small life on an average except the exceptions like a Tendulkar. So if they can earn more money from other forms of the game, they cannot be blamed if they give other forms more priority. Till a few years ago, Australia gave most money to players for playing tests even despite the huge popularity of one dayers. The balance is now completely gone though given a player can earn huge money in various T20 leagues around the world. If test cricket has to be given the most importance, test (I would say even first class cricket but I know that is never going to happen) cricket has to be subsidized.
3. T20 Window – There is a T20 domestic league going on in Zimbabwe right now, complete with the 4 international player rules of the IPL, which is getting good crowds, as most T20 around the world, whether it is England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia or India or Azerbaijan gets. That is a positive, not a negative, for two main reasons, among many others –
a) It introduces cricket to new people who would never go to watch cricket under earlier circumstances.
b) It means cricketers and cricket as a whole gets more money which makes the game more sustainable.
Any one who argues money is bad is missing the plot. A window would stop a T20 league happening every month in some corner of the world. Have two windows, six months apart, a total of 60 or at most 90 days and let the players hit all the sixes they want and spread cricket far and wide. Football is played in far more leagues around the world. However, you do not see a player like Malinga or Pollard playing for 5 different teams and as a result ignoring their country completely.
Do we really want the next generation of cricket fans to think test cricket is an ancient relic it is now becoming? It isn’t fair on the public to expect them to leave work and go for their past times either. 10 years ago, it could have happened as cricket wasn’t played all around the year and a cricket game was a chance to see the Gods. In today’s world when a fan would any way see all the cricketers during the IPL, they can afford the miss the test.
N.B. – I did go for 2 sessions in Eden Gardens during the 2nd India – West Indies test held between 14th to 17th November. I would I have liked to go all days though.
N.B. 2 – My passion for the game has not declined. If at all, it has increased in recent times.
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