Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket came at a time when change had become the need of the hour. The late Australian media tycoon had the far-sight and intelligence to catch the winds of change. Christopher Martin-Jenkins, a doyen of cricket reporting and broadcasting, had described the game under lights, with a white ball and the players wearing coloured clothing as ‘pyjama cricket’. The great John Arlott had called it a ‘circus’. At the end, Packer was the winner. He revolutionised limited-overs cricket. White-ball cricket under lights gradually became the mainstream in the short-form.
Unlike golf, tennis or hockey, cricket usually is slow to accept a departure from tradition. Purists still take T20 cricket with a pinch of salt, its great success notwithstanding. And given that Test cricket still remains the ultimate—for the right reasons—to the players and connoisseurs alike, it’s natural that pink-ball, day-night Tests are viewed with scepticism by many. Former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi, for example, is not against pink-ball Test cricket. But as his tweet suggests, he is probably against its proliferation.
“Much as we admire @SGanguly99’s hurry n 10 months as BCCI chief-but am not v convinced if ‘Pink’ is the only road ahead-#Dada cn do well to resurrect Ranji/Duleep & put everything into ‘marketing’ Test Crkt!” Bedi had tweeted after Sourav Ganguly became the BCCI president and ensured that the upcoming second Test between India and Bangladesh at Eden Gardens from November 22 would be a day-night affair.
Last year, with the Indian cricket board being helmed by the Committee of Administrators (CoA), the Indian cricket team reportedly declined twice to play day-night Tests—first against the West Indies at Rajkot followed by the series opener against Australia at Adelaide. Ganguly settled the matter in just one meeting with Virat Kohli. According to the BCCI president, the India captain took just three seconds to agree.
“I don’t know what’s the reason they didn’t want to play (Adelaide day-night Test). I met Virat, met him for an hour and the first question was that we need to have day-night Test cricket. The answer in three seconds was, ‘yes let’s go ahead and do it’. So I really don’t know what’s happened in the past. What’s the reason and who was involved in the decision. But I found him absolutely acceptable to play day-night Test matches. He realises I think that empty stands in Test matches is not the right way forward,” Ganguly told the audience during a promotional event in Kolkata last week.
Ganguly has always maintained that day-night Test cricket is the way forward, given the dwindling stadium attendance in the long-form—the spectator response for the three home Tests against South Africa had been dismal. In this day and age, it’s difficult for the fans to throng the stadiums on working days and stay put for seven hours to watch a game of cricket. Yes, day-night Test is the way forward but like the Packer revolution, this, too, needs time to become the traditional, day version’s replacement.
To start with, a lot of technical issues are involved. Pink-ball, day-night Test cricket tilts the balance significantly in favour of the fast bowlers. Cricket has always been a batsman’s game. So once again, there’s a departure from the norm. A substantial amount of grass is needed on the pitch to help the pink ball retain its colour. An extra coat of lacquer allows the pink ball to swing more than its red counterpart. And then, there’s the ‘twilight zone’, when the ball moves even more because the air just above the pitch becomes more stable, and as dusk melts into evening and floodlights take over, players find it difficult to pick the ball. Also, and this is very important, the pink-ball hasn’t yet passed the test with regards to its longevity – whether it can overcome the dew factor and stand for 80 overs, when the second new ball becomes available. For the first time, a day-night Test is going to be played in full winter and the degree of difficulty will be higher.
The pink Kookaburra, tried out in the Duleep Trophy, had received negative feedbacks from the players. The Eden Test will be played with the SG pink and although the ball manufacturer is very confident, we should keep our fingers crossed. The pink-ball manufacturing technology is still a work in progress and further improvement is required before any attempt to proliferate day-night Tests is made. Till then, it can stay as an exciting diversion—one pink-ball Test in every series. Yes, the cricketers will have to adapt, but for far too long the sport has ignored its biggest stakeholders – fans. Day-night Test cricket allows fans to turn up at the ground during their free time. That has to be the top priority.
Day-night Test cricket is certainly a way forward in terms of bringing the crowd back to the stands. The game’s purest format also badly requires hard-selling, which at the moment is virtually non-existent. And as Kohli has proposed, India should have “five strong Test centres”; elite venues where a strong section of fans still covets the long-form. Rotation can happen for limited-overs internationals and the IPL matches.