7 December 2019 09:20 AM

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SREELATA S. YELLAMRAZU | 3 DECEMBER, 2019

India’s Tryst with Day-Night Test Cricket

India’s Tryst with Day-Night Test Cricket


There was much grumbling in Australian circles about India turning down the opportunity to play the first Test of the series Down Under late last year as a day-night affair. Even as the dust appeared to have settled, India’s sudden turnaround to host the first ever day-night Test match on its own soil raised a toast as well as some strong opinions either way.

India’s strategic play became more obvious as the match got underway. Sourav Ganguly’s claim of a coup looked more like a takeover, not necessarily on the part of the newly elected BCCI chief, but rather on the part of team India.

Even the razzmatazz that surrounded the two days and an hour long event couldn’t hide the fact that the fate of the five day version of the sport, under floodlights, was a far from sealed deal as far as India were concerned.

While many questioned the convenience of the second Test of Bangladesh’s tour of India being converted from a full five day match at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata into a first of its kind day and night Test cricket in which both, India and Bangladesh, would participate for the first time in international cricket, drawing Ganguly’s connection with the Cricket Association of Bengal, there was a deeper issue underlying the argument that not all venues and not all matches (or opposition) would be treated on par when making the decision, mutually, as suggested by the International Cricket Council.

Ganguly was not wrong in suggesting that day-night Test matches could become the norm, although there is a fair bit of distance before India raise their hand and use the initiative to make every forthcoming Test series a platform to encourage the presence of such a novel idea.

That was evident in Ganguly’s own words recently when pressed on whether India would give the nod for a day-night Test as part of its tour of New Zealand in early 2020. Refusing to be drawn into taking a stand, Ganguly did a double take and warded off queries post Kolkata, “Nothing is decided yet. We still have time for the New Zealand series. Let’s see.”

The danger of day and night Test cricket turning into a spectacle was on the cards with the anti-climactic finish following the parade of yesteryear’s cricketers and the felicitation of Indian sportspersons including Mithali Raj, Sania Mirza and P.V. Sindhu at the hands of dignitaries such as West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina… only for Bangladesh to lose by an innings, their second consecutive heavy defeat in the two Test series.

If Australia were annoyed that the BCCI had turned down Cricket Australia’s request to make the first of a four Test series a day and night affair, India’s change of heart now had Australian Test captain Tim Paine letting loose what had been on the minds of the Australians in the aftermath of the Kolkata Test.

When asked if Australia planned to have a day and night Test as an opener in the series next summer, Paine got cheeky:

“We’ll certainly try and we’ll have to run that by Virat. We’ll get an answer from him at some stage, I’m sure. That’s where we like to start our summer and it has been a long time except for last summer. As I said, we’ll ask Virat and see if we can get his permission to play here, and maybe even get a pink ball Test if he’s in a good mood. So, we’ll wait and see.”

Australia might have to wait a while because New Zealand is up next for India.

What smacked of doublespeak on Kohli’s part for Australia is really their irritation at being turned down at a potentially money churning extravaganza, with India exploiting the loophole laid by the ICC in calling for ‘mutual consent’ to schedule a day and night Test as part of a bilateral series.

While it would appear that India were unwilling to let Australia carry on their initiative, the simple fact remains that India exercised their right to turn down a challenge they did not think they needed to face down, particularly with the hosts on the backfoot, playing one of the weakest teams on record yet.

India simply did not want to take the risk of having to play catch-up in the event that Australia had the better of them on the pure count of having played more Test cricket under floodlights than India have.

After all Australia have a five for five record when it comes to winning day-night Test matches on home turf, since the inception of day-night Test cricket in 2015. India were not about to take a monumental risk, sensing a rare overseas series win Down Under in seven decades theirs for the taking.

No one can find argument with India’s stance. Except when it comes to this.

Speaking ahead of the Kolkata Test, Kohli spoke candidly in front of the media about the decisions that went into that Adelaide Test. “Obviously we wanted to get a feel of pink ball cricket. Eventually it had to happen. But you can’t just bring things up before a big tour and suddenly in the schedule, there’s a pink ball Test, when we have not even practised with the pink ball. We haven’t played any first class game with the pink ball. It can’t be that sudden.”

While Kohli had a point, the irony of the situation is not lost when Kohli is said to have consented immediately to playing Bangladesh under the lights, with the lower ranked team unable to take a similar stand themselves vis-à-vis playing the top points scorer in the ICC World Test championships, knowing it is a version they have themselves never played, even in domestic cricket.

What is little known and missed in the footnote is the fact that the historic day and night Test at Eden Gardens was, also, the shortest Test ever played in India. Well, in terms of number of balls bowled anyway.

The Indian fast bowling trio of Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav made short work of the befuddled Bangladesh batsmen, scalping 19 wickets to make this a new record for India as well. Only 161.2 overs were bowled in the Kolkata Test, compared to the match against Afghanistan which featured 171.2 overs bowled by India in the course of Afghanistan’s first Test.

The only side problem to this plan was the fact that while the fewest balls were bowled over two days and the one hour on the third morning, the only reason the match went on longer in terms of time – Afghanistan were defeated in two days – was because of the number of Bangladesh batsmen getting hit by India’s feisty fast bowling.

In a rare turn of events, the Cricket Association of Bengal decided to refund ticket fees to fans for the fourth and fifth day of the match. Although it was claimed that the first four days of the Test match were sold out and there was a record crowd on show in keeping with the novelty factor, refunds are usually made only in the case of the match being abandoned.

India might not have taken to day and night Tests in a heartbeat, but they might have ended up setting an unwarranted precedent whereby other cricket boards, if not the BCCI itself, might see similar demands from fans when the match does not go the distance of a predesigned five day affair.

The more poignant words come from Virat Kohli, who has been an open advocate for Test cricket in its traditional avatar, despite possessing a versatile game himself which could have easily seen him go the Twenty20 route.

Speaking after the match, Kohli spoke forthrightly about where he stood as far as day and night Test is concerned. “In my opinion, this should not become the only way Test cricket is played because then you are losing out on that nervousness of the first session in the morning.”

That sentiment found echo in Russell Domingo’s thoughts as well when pressed as the Bangladesh coach. Domingo also rued the lack of warm up matches on the India tour, while admitting he wasn’t sure how different the result would have been.

Kohli continued, “It can be a one-off thing. It should not be a regular scenario. You can bring excitement into Test cricket. But you can’t purely make Test cricket based on just entertainment.”

“The entertainment of Test cricket lies in the fact that a batsman is trying to survive a session and the bowler is trying to get a batsman out. If people don’t respond to that, too bad.

“If someone gets excitement from watching the battle between bat and ball, in my opinion, those are the people that should come and watch Test cricket because they understand what's going on.”

The Indian skipper pressed home the point that has been on the lips of the purists, the traditionalists and sports writers around the world. Not every format of cricket will cater to a broader base.

Incidentally Kohli, despite stating his reservations against the day and night Test cricket format, became the first international batsman to score a Test century under lights.

The need of the hour is not just enhancing the novelty factor amongst the younger generation with day and night Tests, but also and more importantly, to make mainstream Test cricket a more attractive, interactive and important marketing and promotion item on cricket board agendas.
 

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