As one who has enthusiastically backed the introduction of day/night Test cricket for some time now, it made my day when I read the comments of Rahul Dravid and Sanjay Manjrekar who have endorsed the same idea. The former Indian captain was speaking at an event in London while the latter in his latest column has made a fervent plea for cricket’s traditional format to take the big step.
Tradition has always been a major factor in cricket and as such administrators have been wary of making changes that seemingly go against it. Thanks however to Kerry Packer they realized that cricket had to move with the times and in the last 35 years we have seen changes, alterations and innovations that one would never have associated with cricket in the old days.
Indeed, for many old timers, cricket now resembles a whole new ball game barely recognizable from what they first saw half a century and more ago.
But then it can be seen that it is largely the limited overs game that has been embraced by this metamorphosis. Test cricket has generally been untouched. It is still played in white attire, with white sight screens, red ball and the matches are played only during the day.
In these days of instant foods and instant entertainment, five day matches tend to be a big bore particularly for the young. It is another matter that for the players Test matches constitute the biggest 'test' and they have valued a good performance in the traditional format much more than one notched up in the shorter versions of the game.
No one however could question the reality of the situation and the fact remains that the crowds were dwindling and interest was declining as first Fifty50 and then Twenty20 engulfed Test cricket and threatened its very existence.
The doomsday predictions however were premature and Test cricket continues to survive. The Ashes contests have traditionally drawn near capacity crowds. One would like to think that interest is still high in Test cricket involving other countries even if the spectator response is inadequate.
But then crowds are an important factor as far as any kind of entertainment is concerned and if day/night Tests draw a larger audience to the stadium so be it. Simply put, if Fifty50 and Twenty20 internationals can be played under lights why not Tests?
The authorities have zeroed in on the pink ball as being most suitable, the dew factor (if it is going to be a factor) will be the same for both sides as the match is played over five days, players have got used to playing at night, so why the hesitation to embrace something that should have been done some time ago? As Manjrekar put it succinctly, "we do a lot of pre-empting in our sport, always erring on the side of being cautious thereby forfeiting some of the charm of the game."
In this connection I well recall the adverse reactions when the World Series Cricket matches were first played in 1977.Cricket followers were uncomfortable initially with coloured clothing, night cricket, black sight screens and white balls. The cynics, many of them former internationals, dismissively termed it as 'pyjama cricket', said it was a passing fad and would not survive. Instead it set the finances, shape and tone of the modern game.
Actually, well before Dravid and Manjrekar said that the time had come to adopt day/night Test matches, Steve Waugh and Shahid Afridi had spoken enthusiastically about the concept. About three years ago, the former Australian captain had said that day/night Tests would make history by taking the game in a different direction. "Test cricket needs a few changes to get people back on board and watching it," he said.
He received support from Afridi, then the Pakistan captain, who felt that in a changing world it was necessary to make changes according to the times. "When you can have Twenty20 cricket and Fifty50 cricket under lights, why not Test matches. I think it would increase the crowd participation and increase revenues and viewership for Test matches."
There is little doubt that the time does seem right for Test cricket to take the major, even revolutionary, step. Administrators should embrace every opportunity to attract more viewers to Tests and making it day/night would be the most effective way of doing so.
The change in the timings could also make Test cricket more appealing to broadcasters. Whether we like it or not, broadcasting determines whether a game survives. There could be a real resurgence in the ratings if Test cricket is played under lights. Any sport has to move with the changing trends and the time has come for a bit of a shake-up in the traditional format in keeping with the times.
Indeed when the ICC Cricket Committee, a couple of years ago, came out strongly in favour of day/night Test matches, it only seemed a matter of time that the first game would be played under lights. One cannot comprehend the delay in implementing such a move that by now should have been a fait accompli.
One can only hope that with more and more players – and those whose opinions really count – jumping on the bandwagon, there will be no further delay in the cricketing world seeing the first day/night Test match.