True to his reputation of being a man as much of action as he is of words, Sourav Ganguly has made a dramatic start after taking over as BCCI president. He has been quick and decisive in initiating the move to have a day-night Test, a first in India, to be played at Eden Gardens next month.The swiftness with which he went about his moves and got captain Virat Kohli and the Bangladesh board to agree to his proposal shows a man who wants to make a worthwhile contribution in stopping the slide Test cricket is hurtling towards. The signs of Test cricket in terminal decline, especially in India, have been visible for long now.
It is an irony of sorts that the stronger the Indians are getting in Tests, the weaker is the crowd support. Indians are now the most invincible side at home and are winning matches with an ease that shows their formidable strength. It is obvious that it hurts the India captain to decimate his opponents in front of empty stands. It must be distressing for the team — used as they are to being followed and adored by thousands in the limited-over matches — being cold-shouldered when it comes to the longest version.
The signs of Tests becoming a relic in the financial capital of cricket are all too visible and worrisome and will have a long-term debilitating effect on its survival. England, and to some extent Australia, are the only two countries which find crowds turning up to support them during Test matches. West Indies, South Africa and other nations hardly see anyone at the venues and India too is now following them.
From a riot like situation at the stadiums due to overcrowding, to empty houses, India’s romance with Test cricket seems to be over and there is a need to inject new life to prevent a permanent divorce from taking place. Ganguly realises if changes have to be made during his 10-month tenure, he has to move at lightning speed. He obviously believes a day-night contest over five days could bring the crowds back and breathe fresh life into a terminally ill patient.
But is it the magic potion that would make Test cricket draw crowds once again? Will people who have now embraced the artificially created thrill-a-minute entertainment that a T20 game provides, be in a mood to appreciate the enduring quality of structured slowness? We have forgotten what it takes to construct a consummate work of lasting impact, so consumed are we with the instant gratification of our senses.
The fault here may not be of the consumers as those who have benefitted from this “instant revolution” are the ones who have meticulously prepared this new dish to seduce its audiences. Now that it has become their staple diet, it may not be possible to wean them away from it.
To spruce up Test cricket in exotic dresses may be a worthwhile attempt towards course correction, but will that be enough? One of the major problems is less and less competitive Test teams around. West Indies have fallen off the radar a long time back, Pakistan is beset with own problems and now the decline of South Africa is bad news for Test cricket.
Ironically, India’s strength at home can also become its weakness in bringing back crowds to the game. It is hard to sustain interest in matches that end up finishing in three days, with one side dominating right from start to the finish. That is what is happening in India. This is definitely great for the team, but may not be so great for Test cricket’s popularity.
The problems are many and in the long run unless there are more competitive teams, close finishes, and greater incentive to not only play the longer format but also for the crowd to come to the ground to watch matches, cosmetic changes like day-night games may not be the elixir to save Tests from extinction in India.