Office bearers, Members of the BCCI, fellow cricketers, Administrators
Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a huge honour to be standing here for so many reasons. To be in India, a country that has become a home from home over the years, thanks to the friends I have made here. And my instant empathy with the people whose passion for and knowledge of our wonderful game of cricket is unparalleled.
To be completely honest with you, I am still a little overwhelmed to have been asked to speak following the great and the good of Indian cricket who have given this lecture over the past five years:
Sunil Gavaskar, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and Farukh Engineer.
Imagine that lot on the same side! Although Anil may have had to bowl from both ends. I believe the six of us shared 633 Test wickets of which Anil contributed a modest 619!
Seriously though, to be the first overseas cricketer to give this lecture, it feels nothing less than incredible. I believe there are those in the local media who met the news of my selection using words a little stronger than ‘incredible’! Which reminds me of the reaction to my selection for my first Test match in 2005!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because we are here, of course, to remember the great Tiger Pataudi. What a cricketer! And, even more importantly what a man! A man whose passion, leadership and love of the game have crossed borders, time zones and oceans.
I heard about him back in Durban in darker times.
And I heard about him in England where, above all, he was renowned as a man who believed in fulfilling cricket’s potential to entertain. Which is why he has always been a hero of mine as we clearly shared an approach and a philosophy towards this great game.
Although I’m not sure I would have felt quite as confident marching down the wicket in a Test match with the use of only a single eye. I suggest that we should double his average to get a feel for how this man’s talent would have played out with double the vision.
And I propose that as a man who understood this game’s power to unite and spread joy he would share my enormous sense of excitement and optimism in addressing these words to one particular group of people in this room.
Yes, eleven of you. Eleven young men who, in less than two days will walk into the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru chosen to represent your country in its first ever Test Match.
There are many others infinitely better qualified to describe the social, political and cultural impact of that sporting leap. But I know what it means as a sportsman. Because, in my humble opinion a hard fought five-day Test match remains the greatest all-round challenge in modern day sport.
A challenge as mentally demanding as it is physical. A challenge demanding the very highest levels of concentration of technique, of determination, of stamina, all, for the batsman at least, with no second chances.
Because, having played every form of cricket in every corner of the cricketing globe, I remain 100% convinced that the five-day Test remains the supreme form of the game.
This may surprise some of you. After all, I am not known as a traditionalist. But in 2005 I maintained that you shouldn’t judge a man by his haircut. And now, thirteen years later, I suggest you should NOT believe everything you read on Twitter!
Nor, I should add, am I anything but unstinting in my praise of 20-20 cricket - particularly the wonderful IPL. 20-20 provides the thrill, the noise, the speed and no little genius. It has taken fielding to a new level and has redefined batting.
But it offers the cricketing buzz without the full sting. Wickets are less precious. Risks are taken without the same downside. There is less character and technique required.
Few players have ever been met with the wrath of an entire population simply for getting out to an injudicious shot early in a 20-20 innings!
To explain why the longer form of the game means so much to me let me take you back to Durban in the early 1980s.
Shimmering heat. A baked pitch and a beige outfield. Concrete slabs on which I sat transfixed watching provincial cricket of a phenomenal standard.
Intensity, bravery, application, skill, relentless competitiveness. It wasn’t even Test cricket but in those days it was the closest we got.
Day after day I watched. Glued. Transfixed. These cricketing Gods demonstrating everything that is great about cricket. And at the heart of the action was a man who remains my hero.
Clive Rice. Ricey. Fearless, graceful and, at times, savage at the crease. Instilling in me the enormity of character required for the first class game. Many years later when it was clear that I would be lucky enough to make a career out of the game I love my Dad told me precisely when he knew I would succeed. It wasn’t a particular shot, a special innings or the long hours of practice. It was those lengthy summer days sitting motionless on those scorching concrete slabs absorbing everything in the Durban heat.
Come to think of it I may have missed my vocation it was actually the perfect preparation for becoming a scorer!
I know I am not the only one here to have been inspired to work harder to practise longer by watching our heroes in white flannels.
Fast forward a few years. To the exciting period following South Africa's re-integration into Test cricket. The duel between Atherton and Donald. The bowler giving everything. The batsman never backing away.
Gladiatorial. No white flag.
No referee's whistle to stop it. Time stood still. Epic in every way partly down to the technical excellence on show but also down to the character that only Test cricket can reveal in full.
Even the late, great – but flawed – Hanse Cronje.
Each played his fair share of one-day matches. But when we look back on their extraordinary achievements their peformances that will always stand the test of time are those when they were dressed in white.
Caps and trousers stained with sweat, grass and sometimes even blood in the white heat of a Test match.
Trust me, there is no feeling like the exhaustion, the excitement, the sense of wonder at waking up on the final day of a Test match knowing that any result is possible.
The aching thighs. The mental fatigue. The fear. And the possibility that this will be THE Day.
So let me ask a few questions. Please relax – I won’t pick on any of you! I’ll even try to answer them myself! Firstly, to the Afghanistani Test team.
What does it take to succeed in a Test match?
What makes it different from the other forms of the game in which you have already excelled?
For me, it’s the ability to take your lessons from the nets into the heat of battle.
It’s the determination to prepare, practise and give 100% commitment to everything away from the game. I appreciate that’s quite a lot to ask for before Thursday! But I know some of you personally and you have been demonstrating those qualities and that application for a long time now.
My second question that I ask on behalf of every cricket fan and every player who has experienced the extraordinary highs and lows of Test cricket is this:
What will it take to keep this form of the game alive?
How can we ensure that for our children’s children ‘cricket’ will not simply be a game that takes forty overs – or less – after work?
Well, I’m afraid that the answer to that isn’t in the hands of cricketers at all. It’s in a word that makes many shudder.
We may dream that cricketers will choose to play five-day cricket because of its history and tradition. Because it develops character. And because we seek to emulate the feats of Bradman, Hutton and Gavaskar.
But that would be no different to asking a Bollywood star to give up the screen for work in the theatre. It may be a more classical form of acting but it offers a fraction of the rewards.
If we wish cricketers to commit to five-day cricket we have to pay them. And as an ex-cricketer, I can now say this without being accused of self-interest! For once!
So how do we pay them? Simply by throwing the same commercial nous and innovation at the Test game. Five days of action. They provide so many opportunities. Day night games have demonstrated the enormous leaps that are possible. The IPL doesn’t play its biggest fixtures when many of its staunchest, wealthiest fans are at work. Neither should Test cricket.
It will only be by pushing the marketing dial to a maximum that we will see if the Test game has true potential. Let’s make every game count. Push the profile of the world Test championship. Develop marketing opportunities. Offer cheaper seats in the ground to provide a better spectacle for TV viewers. Is there a game anywhere quite like Test cricket in which so many people are passionate despite rarely attending a game in person?
We need to get them back through the turnstiles. It’s better for the players, the sponsors and television.
Let’s get the fans back!
Let’s throw equal marketing clout behind the Test game before we succumb to the lazy assumption that 20-20 rules.
To those who hear this and remain cynical. Who question the entertainment value of Tests. Who believe that I am wistful about something that will soon be associated with black and white television fax machines and telegrams.
I say, let’s create a fair comparison. Let's not compromise entertainment. Let’s put the Test fans first. Let’s make Test cricket a spectacle. Garnish it with colour and fireworks. Fill the grounds. Play in the evenings. Give the umpires microphones to broadcast to the spectators. Allow sledging - as long as it remains the right side of the line. Communicate better with the fans.
Give the players a voice during play. Entertainment isn’t just about hitting the ball hard or bowling bouncers. It’s about creating an experience.
For the people who matter most of all: Those who pay to watch cricket. Let’s not kid ourselves. Without them, there would be no professional game at all.
But the players must play their part. And to every player thinking of sacrificing a career with the red ball to play white ball cricket, I plead with you to think again. Don't sacrifice the opportunity to really challenge yourself.
Don't restrict yourself to a form of cricket that, however brilliant, doesn't require mastery of every skill. Only Test cricket can do that. Ask Jos Buttler who scored so prolifically here at the IPL before his recall to the English Test team whether he valued any of those stunning 20-20 knocks for Rajastan Royals as highly as the man of the match in the second Test match versus Pakistan last month at Headingly.
I suggest that he will have felt a sense of pride achievement cammeraderie and fatigue that only Test Cricket can produce.
As for the administrators wondering what the players really think. How do you ensure that Rashid Khan and his fellow stars in this room commit to Test cricket?
How do you push them towards a career where they truly care about the five-day game?
Where they don’t just pay lip service to the national Test side but dream of Test cricket and strive to master it?
Well, I’m not so long in the tooth that I’ve forgotten the answer to that one!
It’s remarkably simple. Ensure that it becomes their priority. They are professionals. They are brands in their own right. And as this incredible Afghanistan team proves great players can move mountains - and inspire populations.
So ensure that they are paid as well over five days as they are over five hours of 20-20 cricket. You can’t blame a player for seeking financial security through his or her sporting talent.The days of amateurism are gone.
Let’s not kid ourselves that players will choose a classical art form over something requiring less effort that attracts greater rewards. When the greatest players can attract the greatest income by playing the greatest form of the game then we will see nothing less than a renaissance in Test cricket.
It’s something I believe – passionately. But a retired cricketer has to broaden his or her horizons. We cannot live in the bubble forever. And in retirement, I have found a new challenge and one that requires an almighty effort from as many of us as possible.
When I started talking about saving the rhinos there were many in the game who wondered if I was focused on helping the Mid West Rhinos cricket franchise in Zimbabwe!
I am, of course, dedicated to an incredible beast that should be able to call Africa and India home.
In fact, it is hunted relentlessly and remorselessly. Its horns may provide short-term riches but its potential extinction risks us losing something incredibly precious.
Which is a tragedy in its own right but which also acts as a metaphor for the future of Test cricket. And it is no secret that I care fervently about the survival and the resurgence of both.
But today is about cricket. And I am sure you will all excuse me if I save my closing words for the Test players of Afghanistan.
The squad, the management, and all those who helped you get here. You guys are sitting on the very edge of history. The doom mongers say this is a dying form of the game, but you have it within your grasp to keep it alive. You are representing a population of 36 million people.
Your country has scaled the ladder across the shorter forms of the game but this is bigger and better. And I have every faith that at some stage during the game one of you will lift your bat – or the ball - up high. Not just to acknowledge the applause for your personal achievement but, more significantly, to pinpoint that moment when all your hard work, the sacrifices you have made and the expectations of others that you have carried on your shoulders have borne fruit.
At that moment, you will feel a surge of adrenaline, a moment that trumps anything I have experienced in life because you know how difficult it is how unlikely it was and, uniquely in your case, you will not only have succeeded as a Test cricketer but you will have done so as a pioneer.
Someone who brought your nation into the Test match arena in which our heroes have been competing for one hundred and fifty years and made your own piece of history.
The headline writers around the globe are waiting! You are changing the perception of your country that has been in the news for the wrong reasons for far too long.
Far from Test cricket dying, you are creating a new beginning. And my dearest hope is that the administrators of cricket around the world can do everything within their power to harness that momentum across India, the sub-continent and beyond.
And last – but most definitely, not least when you are at the crease. When you have played yourselves in. When you decide to take the attack to the bowlers.
Commit yourselves fully. Not just to attack. But to entertain.
Play in the spirit of the great Tiger Pataudi. And if you take his values onto the square then whatever you achieve in this game and wherever it takes you, you will never regret a moment of it.