Sourav Ganguly took over as the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) last month. An innovative leader and successful former skipper, he sought to make an immediate impact on Indian cricket by organising the first ever day/night Test on Indian soil at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens. The intention was good, the occasion was right. What wasn’t correct was the decision to play against Bangladesh — one of the weakest sides to tour India in many, many years.
The momentous Test match, with the pink ball, was supposed to be played from 22 to 26 November. It got over in two days, with only its last rites spilling over to the third morning. If ‘The Prince of Kolkata’ had planned to make this a memorable occasion, to be very honest, it didn’t turn out the way he intended it to. If cricket fans did not react to the way things panned out in the end, it was only because of the home team’s resounding innings win.
Ganguly had stated at various forums that Virat Kohli, the India skipper, had agreed to his proposal of playing the second Test against Bangladesh, in the day/night format, in just three seconds. I have often wondered, before and after the Test in Kolkata, if the India skipper would have approved a first pink ball Test if it was against Australia, England or New Zealand with the same alacrity. Let’s be honest, the Test match at Eden Gardens was an experiment and the hapless Bangladeshis were the guinea pigs.
The new BCCI president also proudly announced that tickets for the day/night Test, for the first four days, were sold out a few days before the match began. If so, then many cricket fans may have bought the tickets to keep as souvenirs, because there were many vacant seats in the 65,000-capacity stadium. I am told that the maximum attendance — while Kohli was batting — was a little over 40,000.
The whole of Kolkata may have turned pink for the historic event, with the presence of Sheikh Hasina, the Bangladeshi prime minister, Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of Bengal, former cricketers, Olympians and other celebs adding colour to the occasion. The enthusiasm however had waned by the time the tourists had started batting a second time on Day 2 of the Test.
The ‘Tigers’ from across the border just weren’t good enough; they played more like alley cats. Bangladesh missed the services of Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Taskin Ahmed and a few others. If the diminutive Mushfiqur Rahim waged a lone battle, Mahmudullah Riyad who gave him company in the second knock walked off with a strained thigh. The latter’s attitude in the Test match was questionable. The talented Liton Das – like Nayeem Hasan, later – was hit on the helmet and had to be sent for a scan. Pacers Al Amin Hossain, Abu Jayed and Ebadot Hossain bowled their hearts out but were found wanting in pace, movement and experience. What was also appalling was the way the Bangladeshi tail-enders ran afraid of the Indian pacers; this, in modern cricket, is unacceptable at any level.
Team India were ruthless in their annihilation of this substandard Bangladeshi squad. They were expected to do so, weren’t they?
Kohli and Co. therefore can’t be blamed for messing up what was meant to be a celebration. What the BCCI and Team India should however be answerable for is the choice of opponents for an occasion so big — the first ever day/night Test match on Indian soil!
India has taken four years to join the day/night Test bandwagon. The first ever pink ball Test was played between Australia and New Zealand at Adelaide in November-December 2015. Since then there have been 10 other matches played before the Kolkata Test last week. Till Ganguly ‘convinced’ Kohli to play that Test against Bangladesh, the BCCI had steadfastly refused to play the day/night version, especially on foreign soil. Like T20 cricket and the DRS, Indian cricket has always been a bit tardy in accepting innovations.
After India’s thumping win against the beleaguered Bangladeshis, Australian skipper Tim Paine has asked if Kohli would agree to play a day/night Test at Adelaide when the Indians go Down Under next. Will he or won’t he? Imagine a Jofra Archer or a Pat Cummins bowling to Indian batsmen on a track like the one at Eden Gardens and in those conditions at around twilight. Some of India’s top order batsmen have already spoken out about not sighting the ball at certain times in the day. Fielders have also have said that the pink ball travelled faster and often couldn’t be seen from the boundary lines.
Just because Kohli notched up a hundred and Mushfiqur scored a few handsome runs in the second innings, the BCCI shouldn’t be lulled into believing that all was well in the Kolkata day/night Test. It wasn’t. Both Kohli and Mushfiqur are classy and take the determination to succeed to another level; the sterner the test, the sterner their response.
Before the next day/night Test is played in India, the BCCI needs to do a rethink on various issues that will make the game a little less dangerous for the players and more enjoyable for the paying spectator. The match timings need to suit Indian conditions, to start with. In the eastern parts of India, where it gets dark by 4 pm, would an earlier start help? Would it be convenient to take a break, 15 minutes either side of sunset? How can the dew factor affecting bowling performance under lights be controlled?
The pink SG Test ball, in its present avatar, may not be acceptable to players, especially of the touring teams. The manufacturers need to work on the product and get it as close to the red SG Test ball as possible. Its quality needs to be studied vis-a-vis the Kookaburra and Dukes balls for easy acceptance by overseas teams.
As far as the media is concerned, day/night Tests will surely jack up their ratings and earnings, more because of the novelty factor rather than anything else right now. In the long run, better picture quality, better presentation, engagement with fans and innovative ideas will help the game grow. These Test matches will need to be competitive and last the five days to bring in bigger crowds and increase viewership substantially. The waning interest in five-day cricket can surely be arrested with introspection if Ganguly and his team accept change as the way ahead.
Pink ball cricket needs to be nursed; it could be the future of Test cricket. Right now, however, it isn’t in the pink of health, especially in India.
The author is a former fast bowler and a sportswriter. He is also a caricaturist of renown. He believes in calling a spade a spade.
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