In November 2013, Sachin Tendulkar played his final test match in front of his home crowd in the Wankhede. There were tributes galore and everyone wanted one of cricket’s biggest stars, a touchstone for an entire generation, to be given the farewell he deserved. A few questions were posed on how a player, even if he belonged to an elite club like Tendulkar, got the farewell he wanted. The BCCI truncated a tour to South Africa to accommodate a hastily arranged farewell series for the great man. The West Indies, a depleted force in test cricket for ages, ensured the competition was a no-contest. Winning in front of your home crowd in your last test match is what any player dreams of.
Sachin’s last series was all about him. The opposition was incidental, almost forgotten in the melee.
Six years later, the Eden Gardens is playing host to the first day and night test match to be played in India. Again, there is a lot of excitement about the match – but the opposition is not up to the mark. India steamrolled Bangladesh in the first test match and barring a miracle, no one expects a shock or surprise in the second match, even if it is the first day/night test being played by all the players.
Cricket is the only game that has constantly made itself shorter to stay relevant. From 5 days to 50 overs to 20 over and now, to T10, a format that is being experimented with.
The problem in test cricket is this – there are only three quality test cricket sides in international cricket – India, Australia and England. West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Africa, all of them have inefficient boards that haven’t invested in test cricket. The shorter formats are more of an even playing field (remember West Indies are the reigning T20 champs). MS Dhoni retired from test cricket in 2014 to extend his limited overs career. Though no one knows what the future holds for him, the fact that he chose the shorter formats over test cricket says something about what some players really feel about the format.
The first day and night test match was played in Adelaide in 2015. It was a success, but it hasn’t moved beyond the novelty stage. The BCCI, the world’s most powerful cricketing body, has always been late to the party. Indian Standard Time applies here too. They kept T20 at bay until India won the first T20 World Cup and then dived headlong into the format with the IPL. They didn’t agree to the World Anti-Doping Authority testing players during off-season as they said it was an infringement on privacy, not understanding that out of competition testing is more important than testing during competition. Only recently did they cede to be a part of WADA. They rejected day/night tests because they felt the pink ball was hard to spot.
It was only after Sourav Ganguly took over as BCCI President that he pushed for the Day/Night test match.
The litmus test of a cricketer’s ability has always been test cricket. That’s what the greats of the game dreamed of – earning a test cap, winning a test match abroad, getting your name up on the Lord’s honour board. It is the format that lays threadbare a player’s ability. While its relevance, especially after the ascent of T20 cricket, has constantly been questioned, it is still around. There is no greater joy than watching batsmen navigate the first 15 overs on a fast pitch with the pacers steaming in and the slips in position.
Some see Day/Night tests as the last roll of the dice to preserve test cricket and get the crowds to come in and make it viable for sponsors. While it will not replace regular test cricket, tours might have one Day/Night test match in their itinerary.
For test cricket to flourish, boards must make it a priority. The recently concluded test series against South Africa was a no-contest and such tours only reveal the yawning gap between sides, all of which make for boring viewing. Weak and inefficient boards mean fewer quality test sides – something day/night cricket can’t solve.
The first Day/Night test match in Eden Gardens has a lot of razzmatazz to back it up. Former greats will be in attendance to discuss some of the most epic matches played there – Kolkata 2001 against the invincible Aussies.
In his brilliant daily blog, musician Gabe Anderson wrote this amazing post titled ‘Hype and Gasoline’:
Hype is really fun when you have the stuff.
Because when you have the stuff it isn’t hype, it’s gasoline.
So it’s important to remember: you’re in the business of fire not gasoline.
Keep building it.
What test cricket needs now is a little hype and a lot of gasoline.