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Is day-night Tests the solution towards bringing Indian fans back to the stadiums?

India is all set to play its first-ever day-night Test match in Kolkata next month against Bangladesh.

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Greater Noida in India
Greater Noida. (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)

Do you remember India’s epic come-from-behind victory against Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001? I bet you do! The sight of VVS Laxman dancing down the track and hitting Shane Warne against the spin or Harbhajan Singh inflicting that match-winning collapse on the final day. 

But, tell me honestly, is it only the on-field action, the baptism of fire by Bhajji or that miraculous partnership between VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid is all that made that Test match quite a spectacle? Don’t you remember that vociferous Eden Gardens crowd which erupted in unison when Harbhajan trapped Glenn McGrath leg-before-wicket to seal that historic win? 

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If the players are the actors, the crowd are a band of musicians whose voice serves as the background score to the whole drama. They are the heartbeat of any sporting event, let alone Cricket.

Recently, Team India completed its eleventh successive Test series win at home. A stupendous feat by any stretch of the imagination. Isn’t it? But the problem was nearly no one was there to witness what was complete domination and total annihilation of the Proteas by a mean-winning juggernaut masquerading as a Test match side.

In fact, the situation has been so dire that the state associations have been forced to allow free entries to the school kids and security personnel to avoid major embarrassment. And, it has been like that for some time now. So, what should have been the time to celebrate the herculean achievement of the home side, all we were discussing was how to bring the fans back to the stadiums for Test cricket.

India to host their first Day/Night Test, but is it the solution?

Ashes
The sun sets over the Adelaide Oval during the first day-night cricket Test match. (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Day/Night Tests. India. Does it sound like a null set? Well! It seemed that way until Sourav Ganguly came on board as the BCCI President. We Indians are laid-back people. We are averse to change. We like things to go as they are. Think back to the days when ODI cricket started or when T20 came into effect or when the Decision Review System first burst on the scene.

The BCCI was the last one to accept all those changes. And, the same has been the case with Day/Night Tests. India and Bangladesh are the only full-member nations besides Ireland and Afghanistan who haven’t featured in a Test match under lights. In fact, the BCCI had even turned down Cricket Australia’s invitation to playing a Day/Night Test during their 2018-19 tour Down Under.

But Ganguly, a key advocate of the concept, feels the game needs to go forward and even extended a formal invitation to the Bangladesh Cricket Board to play the 2nd Test at the Eden Gardens under lights and now the BCB has agreed to the proposal.

“We all are thinking about this. We will do something about this. I am a big believer in day-night Tests. Kohli is agreeable to it. I see a lot of reports in newspapers that he is not, but that is not true. The game needs to go forward and that is the way forward. People should finish work and come to watch champions play. I don’t know when that will happen, but it will,” Ganguly said as quoted by Cricbuzz.

But, is it all that easy?

Pink and red ball
(Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

BCB has given a go-ahead for the Day/Night Test at the Eden Gardens. But does it really solves the problem? Is the Day/Night Test really feasible in Indian conditions? The BCCI did try out pink-ball Tests during the 2015-16 season of the Duleep Trophy and while it did attract fans to the stadiums, the feedback given by the cricketers involved was alarming.

Firstly, dew. We have seen a plethora of limited-overs fixtures getting decided due to the heavy amount of dew falling on the ground, and no one would want dew taking one side out of the equation in a Test match. These are not my words but of Tamil Nadu skipper Dinesh Karthik who featured in the trials. According to him, the pink ball under dew was difficult to handle while the then India Blue coach Ashish Kapoor compared the wet pink ball to a bar of soap in the hand.

Secondly, the players felt that the ball did a lot when it was new but once its lacer wore off, it neither reverse-swung- a key feature of Test matches in the subcontinent, nor did it turn as the red ball ideally would have, as complained by Kuldeep Yadav. 

Batsmen Priyank Panchal and Cheteshwar Pujara also reported of the ball behaving differently under lights while the fact that the pink ball lost its shape and colour on abrasive Indian wickets and had to be frequently replaced effectively eliminated reverse-swing from the equation was another claim put forward by cricketers like Abhinav Mukund.

Cheteshwar Pujara, who also played in the tournament said that its seam was tough to see which made it difficult to pick the spinners variations. So, even though the experiment brought the fans to the stadium, it didn’t score highly in cricketers’ books and was scrapped for the succeeding seasons.

The road ahead…

Considering the failure of the experiment in domestic cricket, one can’t be sure as to whether the Day/Night Tests will work out because one cannot simply compromise with the quality of the game even if it brings the fans back to the stadiums.

Yes! Day/Night Tests remain an attractive option. But, even if it doesn’t work out, if the BCCI and the state-associations can focus on improving the fan experience in the stadium, it would go a long way towards bringing the people back to Test match cricket!

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