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A test of faith
Crowds at Test matches have declined in India over the past couple of years, raising serious concerns about the viability of the game's longest format. But with the recent Champions League Twenty 20 not living up to viewership expectations either, there are hopes public interest in the five-day game may see a revival when England and Australia come calling this season. How the fan responds to these high-profile series may well chart the course for Test cricket's future...
A funny thing happened after the conclusion of the recent Champions League Twenty20 in South Africa: Cricket-crazy India couldn't remember who had won. Suddenly, agencies which track TV viewership wouldn't share their findings on the tournament. "Please contact the channel, " was the standard answer. Stakeholders, including Cricket Australia, immediately upped the decibel level to harp on the importance of the event.
Behind the scenes, though, CA had issued instructions to key Sydney Sixers player Shane Watson to return home and prepare for the Australia-South Africa Tests, undercutting all the praise for the club T20 event. Some Indian administrators wholeheartedly agreed, though off the record, that the event completely failed to grab eyeballs in what is by far the most important cricket market.
Not that the CL T20 was a raging success in earlier seasons. The inaugural edition in 2009 boasted average TV ratings points of 1. 06, much lower than the Indian Premier League's 4. 1 that year. The original title sponsors withdrew after two years. Most fans and experts now seem to agree that the tournament is completely irrelevant. Yet that doesn't stop talk of the event being a permanent fixture on the ICC's Future Tours Programme.
These are perplexing developments for a flagship T20 event which hoped to ride piggyback on the IPL's success. The global broadcasting rights were sold for $900 million in 2008 in a decade-long deal. The tournament boasts a prize pool of $6 million. Why was so much money invested in a tournament which no one would watch? Was it because its secondary purpose was to become an over-hyped feeder line for the IPL, disregarding the domestic cricket played across the globe? Is that why an established T20 player like Watson was recalled, to cater to more 'honourable' pursuits like preparing for a flagship Test series, for which a player needs to be at his best though his wallet may be lighter?
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cricket's skewed economics and complete confusion over formats, scheduling and audience acceptability.
The decision to recall Watson was praised since cricketers and cricket watchers agree the five-day game is the foundry where names are forged and temperament and technique tested to the hilt. Watched keenly, Tests offer the opportunity to observe the evolution of a contest as conditions change, pitches crumble, the ball starts to reverseswing or turn and batsmen and bowlers find the mind weakening. There are no freebies and there's no place for the second-best side to hide in such a prolonged fight.
So the hardest form of the game should also be the most well paid, ideally. The BCCI, for example, apart from the graded central contracts pays players Rs 7 lakh per Test, Rs 4 lakh per One-day International and Rs 2 lakh per T20, in which the players work for only three or so hours per game. It's all good on paper, yet with interest in Tests waning and ODIs losing steam, the introduction of highly-successful and lucrative T20 leagues have turned cricket's payment structure upside down. Initially, the big names and big earners were those who had all made their mark in Tests and ODIs, not slam-bang domestic-arena hitters who seemed more suited for a domestic league.
The likes of Kevin Pietersen now earn $2 million for a season's work in the IPL and the hard graft of Tests seems long hours and low pay in comparison. "The dynamics of cricket's payment structure have fundamentally changed. That's not such good news as we might imagine since no sporting economy can be sustained in a topsy-turvy fashion, " says social theorist Ashis Nandy, author of The Tao of Cricket among other books. "Naturally, even IPL franchisees are struggling because of the bloated payment structure. At the same time, administrators have done their best to erode the traditional appeal of Tests. If T20 flops in the long run, cricket won't know where to turn. T20 is not offering the kind of epic contests which sustain a sport, so fans may be fatigued. "
At its best, there is no cricket more exciting or enthralling than Tests, yet it also challenges the viewer. Nuance isn't for everyone and draws on flat pitches are a bore. Urban audiences are hard pressed for time. Yet if the indifference to the CL T20 is any clue, it now seems a surfeit of Twenty20 may be drawing audiences away from even the new, millionaire-spawning ultra-short version.
Though it's high on action and glamour, club-level T20 sometimes seems too manufactured to evoke loyalty or exhibit the game's full parameters, like in the Champions League where matches just seemed vignettes of a longer game - not complete contests with a beginning, middle and climax. Also, there are fears Tests suffer from a lack of context and T20 may be going the same way.
"Administrators haven't worked out a way to promote and sustain Tests. We all love T20s but if the league payments are to be sustainable, the feeder line has to be stronger. For the sake of cricket's economy and to keep sponsors interested, it's important to keep Test cricket healthy, " says World Cup-winning allrounder and former India coach Madan Lal. "There is too much T20 league cricket being played and it is sapping spectator interest, like we saw in the recent Champions League T20. Very few in India watched it and it is not a tournament which should be there on the calendar. "
A few days after the CL T20, some top Indian players - some of whom had featured in the CL as part of IPL teams - were busy playing in domestic competitions they had ignored for years, risking injury on uneven grounds and staying in hotels considerably less refined then the luxury they are used to. They were impressing selectors ahead of England's Test tour of India.
MS Dhoni & Co have a busy season ahead and the Tests against England and Australia will take centrestage. Sponsors may be demanding cheaper rates for the longer version but the BCCI is hoping interest is considerably more than expected. How well the home Tests are received can answer some fundamental questions on the way forward.
Is the five-day game an anachronism, an antique at best confined to the sidelines, at worse forgotten? Given that it is easier to bag an IPL contract than it is to play a Test, are we basically appealing to a cricketer's conscience while asking him to aspire to play the five-day game? If so, how long will that work? Viewership, both on TV and at the venues, can provide the answers, paving the way for a more streamlined calendar in which formats don't jostle for space.
Former India captain and ex-chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar says he has thought long and hard about the future of Tests, and outlines four reasons why the format has struggled: "One is the scheduling, which is not allowing players to focus on the format. This is more important than the money part. Two, the domestic circuit needs to be top class. It is not producing enough Test-quality players. Three, the quantity of ordinary Tests need to be reduced by preparing proper pitches, while also retaining home advantage. The fourth is to avoid putting the onus on players to choose their format. If T20 and Tests are to both retain their lustre 4-5 years down the line, it should be up to selectors and the board to regulate a player's appearance across formats. "
Vengsarkar doesn't mention a fifth factor: the primacy and survivability of Tests depend to a very large extent on whether India stays in love with the format. Given its financial resources and muscle-flexing ability, the BCCI has a responsibility to make Test-match watching a more interesting affair, just like it did with T20s.
The board may do well to heed the words of former India stumper and selector Kiran More, who has some excellent ideas. "Do away with playing Tests across India in smaller cities, " says More, "We have too many Test venues. Tests should be played only in Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi. These should be sacred Test venues. You can't have another Wimbledon at Manchester. People from small towns can plan their trips to Test-hosting cities, so there should be definite dates for home Tests, like they have in England and Australia. "
More adds: "Make these dates an intrinsic, non-negotiable part of the calendar, much like a cultural affair or festival. Then the schedule too will fall in place. Create a culture around Test cricket. Create a buzz around hospitality stands, so people can have a day of fun while watching the cricket unfold. There should be pride in the tradition. "
It's clear that someone, somewhere needs to take some big decisions soon. Sachin Tendulkar, who may or may not be around next Ranji Trophy season, played a Ranji game recently at the Wankhede Stadium and scored a century for Mumbai. Entry was free. Very few came to watch. The total attendance, including players and the media, numbered close to one hundred.
If the India-England Tests throw up some wonderful contests, there's hope. If the entire home season sees insipid, one-sided Tests played to largely empty grounds, very soon there may not be much cricket on your TV except the familiar slogging of unfamiliar T20 clubs. And we haven't even begun about ODIs yet.
Those long-playing days
1933-34 Chennai test
The Indian squad included CK and CS Nayudu and Nazir and Wazir Ali, providing the second instance after South Africa of a side playing two pairs of brothers in the same Test. HW Taylor and D Taylor and PAM Hands and RHM Hands had played for South Africa against England at St. George's Park, Port Elizabeth in 1913-14
After waiting for almost twenty years, India recorded a most convincing Test win by an innings and eight runs in their 25th Test match. Vinoo Mankad's innings (8/55) and match analyses (12/108) were the best in any Test match in Madras and remain the record for India in Tests against England
1961-62 Calcutta and Madras
India, with a 187-run win at Eden Gardens (Calcutta), gained their second victory against England in 28 Tests and ended a sequence of nine drawn Tests in India. England failed to register 421 runs in 490 minutes. By registering a 128-run win at the Corporation Stadium (Madras), India won their first rubber against England - and only their third against any country - with a second consecutive Test win. Salim Durrani (6/105 & 4/72) produced his best match-analysis in 29 Tests
Bapu Nadkarni came up with a unique feat, bowling 21 consecutive maiden overs to set the record for six-ball overs in first-class cricket. His sequence of 131 balls without conceding a run has been surpassed only by South Africa's HJ Tayfield (137 balls, 16 eight-ball maidens) in the Cape Town Test against England in 1956-57
Bhagwat Chandrasekhar captured 5 for 135 and 1 for 26 in the fifth and final Test at Brabourne Stadium, taking his tally of wickets to 35 in the series. This was a new record for India which still holds. Chandrasekhar remains the only Indian bowler to bag 35 wickets in a Test series
1976-77 Kotla, Eden, Chepauk
England won the Delhi Test by an innings and 25 runs;by 10 wickets at Eden Gardens (Calcutta) and by 200 runs at Chepauk (Madras). It was the first instance India had lost the first three Tests in any home rubber. Bishan Singh Bedi had become the first bowler to bag 200 wickets, accomplishing the feat in 51 Tests. In the Mumbai Test at the Wankhede, India had used just one ball in England's first innings, lasting 154 overs. Derek Underwood claimed 29 wickets in the series to emulate Fred Trueman's record for England against India, established in 1952.
The dismissal of Kapil Dev by debutant bowler Christopher Cowdrey with his fourth ball caused his astonished father, the legendary Colin Cowdrey, who was listening in on the radio somewhere in London, to drive in the wrong direction along a one-way street!
Opening batsman Sunil Gavaskar appeared in his 88th successive Test match to claim the world record from his brother-in-law Gundappa Viswanath. Kapil Dev's omission from the match ended an unbroken sequence of 65 Tests and was the only gap in his 131-Test career.
India vs England numbers game
Number of double centuries recorded by Indian batsmen in Tests against England in India - 224 by Vinod Kambli in the 1992-93 Mumbai Test, 222 by Gundappa Viswanath in the 1981-82 Chennai Test and an unbeaten 203 by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi in the 1963-64 Delhi Test. For Viswanath and Pataudi, these innings were their career-best in Tests.
Number of catches held by Yajurvindra Singh in the 1976-77 Bangalore Test - an Indian fielding record in a Test. Just for the record, he was the first Indian fielder to take five catches in a Test innings!
bowling figures recorded off 38. 5 overs by Vinoo Mankad (his career-best ) in England's first innings of 266, guiding India to a comprehensive win by an innings and 8 runs in the 1951-52 Chennai Test - the best figures by an Indian bowler in a Test innings against England. India also made cricket history by notching up their first Test win
Apart from Vinoo Mankad, the only other Indian bowler to bag eight wickets in an innings is Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, accomplishing the feat in the first innings of the 1972-73 Delhi Test. His career-best figures went in vain as India lost the Test by six wickets.
Number of wickets bagged by two Indian bowlers in a Test match separately against England in India - 12/108 by Vinoo Mankad in the 1951-52 Chennai Test and 12/181 by Laxman Sivaramakrishnan in the 1984-85 Mumbai Test.
Number of wickets captured by Ian Botham, conceding 106 runs in the 1979-80 Mumbai Test - a record in England-India Tests. By scoring 114 off 144 balls in the same Test, he remains the only allrounder to perform the unprecedented feat of posting a hundred and capturing 13 wickets in a Test
Number of runs conceded by Sadu Shinde off 73 overs, capturing just two wickets in England's second innings total of 368 for six in 1951-52 Delhi Test - the most conceded by a bowler in a Test match in India involving India and England. Interestingly, Shinde was the most successful Indian bowler in the first innings, claiming 6/91 off 35. 3 overs. His tally of 253 runs is the most conceded by an Indian bowler in a Test match against England
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