Sixteen years after they played a maiden Test, Bangladesh toured India for the first time in history. That match happened in February this year, at Hyderabad, lest you might have forgotten since the Indian team’s schedule is never-ending. That, this one-off inaugural Test was a return gift for Bangladesh Cricket Board siding with the BCCI on many issues, is an open secret.
Imagine, if during that particular conversation, the Indian delegation would have proposed a four-day game instead, one to be played under lights and with the pink ball, and to be certified as a ‘Test’ only on approval from the ICC. The next morning cricket aficionados across the world – both fans and media – would have cried bloody murder.
‘Test cricket is dying and the BCCI has thrust a first dagger’ would have been the gist of umpteen headlines the world over. In sharp contrast to this fanciful-yet-possibly-truthful assumption, there has been a general muted response to Cricket South Africa’s proposal of a four-day pink-ball Boxing Day ‘Test’ against Zimbabwe. Where is the outrage you would want to ask?
For some time now, there has been a question mark hanging over the future of Test cricket. Various ideas have been mooted to help the longer format, such as the Test championship that never took off, two-tier structure or even a conference style format. Pink ball cricket is just another variation, one that has been most readily adopted. However, a four-day format, down from five days, is the most radical idea yet.
It was first suggested as early as 2009 when then ICC president David Morgan had stirred the hornet’s nest. It has taken another eight years for it to be taken up in all seriousness, and this tectonic shift came about in the summer when England hosted South Africa. Only one match in the four-Test series went into the fifth day, and tongues started wagging. It became a real debate, begging the question, if indeed gate receipts could improve if the length of Test matches is shortened.
Would the attendance at the India-Bangladesh Test have improved if it were a stipulated four-day Test? Or, the drab India-Sri Lanka encounters recently, where none of the matches went into a fifth day? Even the India-England and India-Australia home series didn’t enjoy full houses on most days, and hence the answer is no. At best, it reduces the hectic schedule of international cricketers. Nothing more, period!
It also puts into focus CSA’s bid to host this first-ever four-day Test, then. They had grand plans of a nine-Test affair in their home summer – four against India and four against Australia, plus a one-off against another nation as a prelude. Only when it seemed impossible that India would play four Tests – because of scheduling issues – that they went in for an alternative team (Zimbabwe) to play the Boxing Day Test.
But again, why four days? Is it because the opposition is too lowly and will be easily beaten that the South African cricketers enjoying an extra day off is a certainty? If so, why not go the whole hog and ask India and Australia to play four-day Tests as well (with ICC’s approval of course)? It would save a lot of time, and maybe CSA would be able to squeeze in extra matches on those tours too.
Without doubt, it brings in the money angle. Zimbabwe is not a lucrative enough opposition, and at best this match will serves as glorified practice, especially if the ICC doesn’t sanction 'Test’ status. India and Australia are bumper-money opponents, ringing in the cash registers for both broadcasters and host stadia. This also partly explains why the scheduling of this particular Indian tour took so long.
It is understood, on good authority, that CSA once again tried to play hardball with BCCI, like they did in 2013. Back in May, towards the end of the IPL when South African cricketers reported for international duty, CSA shot a mail to BCCI CEO Rahul Johri asking him to confirm India’s tour dates. The BCCI didn’t even bother entertaining this email so early in the year.
CSA then went ahead and signed an MoU with Cricket Australia with the first Test scheduled to begin on 1 March. As such, CSA had fixed up their season-ending series without confirming dates with the BCCI and then tried to push the Indian board in accepting their demands of committing both to the Boxing Day and New Year’s Tests. The BCCI refused, of course, as is their prerogative. As long as they are fulfilling commitments of a full tour, it is nowhere written that the Indian team must play Boxing Day, New Year’s or any other such fanciful events.
Moreover, if CSA was invested in giving primacy to its own home schedule, the BCCI has every right to give importance to its own home season as well. Keeping that in mind, they brought forward Sri Lanka’s tour of India (scheduled in the FTP for February-March 2018) to November-December and delayed the South Africa tour just a bit. Yet, the CSA still insisted on forcing the Indian team to play four Tests in a four-week January window, which the BCCI again struck down. Hence, the announced tour itinerary now consists of three Tests, six ODIs (an additional game to compensate monetary loss for the cut fourth Test) and three T20Is.
Even so, the BCCI unfairly continues to draw flak for this shortened Test series, when the CSA should be questioned as to why did they schedule an Australian series before signing off on the Indian team’s itinerary. At the same time, atleast a finger should be pointed at the South African board for hastening the ‘demise of Test cricket’ should that four-day ‘Test’ comes to pass.