Timing is everything in cricket, whether batting, bowling, wicket-keeping or fielding. This being the case it is baffling that in all this fuss over four-day and five-day Tests the issue of timings, particularly in the challenging environment of India, has been completely ignored.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has ushered in concepts of day-night Tests, Test rankings, World Test Championship, four-day Test, etc after every change of guard pushed and prodded for tweaking of Tests. However, these periodical bursts of enthusiasm had studiously skirted around uniform hours of play. Maybe, this was a carefully calibrated approach to ensure that ICC did not infringe on local practices.
However, this has not stopped it from initiating debates whether 90 overs a day for five-day Tests or 98 overs a day for four-day Tests are ideal, without ever pondering on how the extra overs per day are going to be accommodated in the sub-continent.
Even as the world body conveniently steered clear of the nitty-gritty of hours of play, its primary money-spinning member, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), needs to pay attention to this aspect for the longer format of the game.
Sourav Ganguly, as soon as he took charge of BCCI, followed the ‘best traditions’ of ICC presidents and immediately sought a historic moment to mark his presidency. He got that with his pet project, the pink-ball Test at Eden Gardens. It turned out to be a resounding success, if only because his dynamic leadership ensured that it was suitably hyped and actively driven to a satisfying finish.
Ganguly also pushed for the concept of five permanent Test centres: Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Chennai and by all accounts it has met with near-universal approval among BCCI units.
But there is a crucial matter of hours of play that he and many others — cricketers, administrators, organisers, etc — would appreciate: A substantial shift in hours of play at every level of long duration games. This includes Tests, all first-class matches (including Ranji Trophy), all junior level games, etc.
Currently, hours of play in India for Ranji and other multi-day matches (barring Tests) are generally from 9.30 am to 12 noon; followed by lunch; 12.40 to 2.40 pm; followed by tea and 3 to 4.30 pm. In Tests, the first session is only for two hours and this is followed by a lunch break at 11.30 am (Incidentally, long-duration matches in England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, etc start only at 11 am, if not later)
Anyone who has sauntered into a match ground very early in the morning would be aware that the challenging issue for any organiser in India is to get stadium, grounds, pitch, practise nets, dressing rooms, washrooms, breakfast, etc ready on all match days before 8 am. The rushed early start puts everyone, including police, security, transport, media, etc under strain for days together in multi-day matches. Worse, with cities having expanded exponentially and transport systems not having kept pace, those staying far from the venue are further stressed en route to executing their jobs.
This could get even more skewed in eastern parts of India where IST timings are not calibrated to reflect the change in longitude. Hence, owing to the early hour of setting sun, matches start as early as 8.30 and 9 am!
It is interesting to note that this hectic timing of matches was not always so. Earlier, hours of play in India were 10.30 am to 12.30 pm; 1.15 to 3.15 pm and 3.35 to 5.05 pm. That is five and a half hours of play a day against the current six hours.
The BCCI advanced start of play to 9 am and 9.30 am, but when providing lunch at 11.30 am became a serious challenge at some centres, they postponed lunch by increasing the first session of play from 120 minutes to 150 minutes.
Currently, the early morning (9.30 am) start to matches provides an undue advantage to seam and swing bowlers in North and even East zones. The moisture in the pitch and atmospheric conditions at the early hour in winter make fast bowlers look better than they really are. Their exaggerated performances are having an impact on the outcome of matches as well as the selection of teams.
Ganguly and his apex council would be doing everybody, players, state associations, umpires, match referees, television and print media, scorers, organisers, security, transport, groundsmen, hospitality and all the folks who support them a huge favour by rolling back the hours of play.
The ready availability of floodlights in many grounds could be put to use, if needed, during winter evenings. The changed timings could also bring in college and school-going youngsters for the last session of play.
Sooner or later, whoever comes to BCCI will have to bite this bullet. This early start is as artificial as it gets and is placing needless stress on all quarters. Not for nothing is timing so essential to the art of cricket. Time for Ganguly to make his pro-cricket stance count.
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