Test cricket is largely awash with natural colours. The green of the grass, the yellow luminescence of the sun, the brooding darkness of wafting clouds, the whites of the players and above all the pale brown grainy wooden bats countering a red cherry projectile emanating from a hurtling bowler. Truly it is a ballet under a bright light that spreads from the east and eventually wanes into the west.
The sport’s longest format is also akin to a regular work day, commencing in the morning, breaking for lunch and tea and winding up while the shadows lengthen. Add to it the acoustics — a packed venue with its heaving crowd busting its lungs and throat, cheering for the squads.
Most players would confide that among all the elements intrinsic to the gladiatorial theatre called sport, it is the fans that elevate a ground, add character, besides lending their anecdotal memories as part of cricket’s evolving history.
But by and by the followers, strapped for time in an era of rapid delights and overwhelming stress, just did not have the patience for the pastoral delights of a Test. There was work to be done, tough professors or bosses to be handled, and despite all the ATMs in the world, money was a fleeing entity. And in walked the ODIs and later, the Twenty20s, much to the relief of those, who could perhaps spare a day or just a sliver of a night to savour some cricket that would throw up a decisive result unlike Tests that may slumber into the odd draw.
The resultant demographic shift to the shorter versions, often played under floodlights, eventually meant that most Test venues, began to sport that forlorn look replete with meagre fans. ODIs and Twenty20s with their wider reach and commercial heft began to subsidise Tests but something had to break.
Broadcasters and sponsors needed an audience and a way forward was the radical idea of the ‘day and night’ Test, where the game’s lovers could troop in after work, quaff a beer or sip a hot chocolate and cherish the tussle upon 22 yards. The International Cricket Council was all for it while India refused to play ball.
It was par for the course as India somehow was always the last to embrace the winds of change, be it Twenty20 games or the Decision Review System, to name a couple. The same holds true for the day and night Test which had its formal launch when host Australia and New Zealand competed in Adelaide from November 27 to December 1, 2015. The remaining cricketing nations followed suit but India remained aloof. So much so that when Virat Kohli’s men last toured Australia, the BCCI refused Cricket Australia’s request of converting the first Test in Adelaide (December 6 to 10, 2018) into a day and night affair.
Thankfully those persistent cobwebs of doubts and hesitation have been swept clean with the BCCI’s new president Sourav Ganguly pressing the right buttons, making those precise phone calls and lobbying well within his institution besides speaking with his Bengali brethren across the border. It was much akin to those dance-down-the-wicket and clobber-the-bowler shots that the former India captain essayed in his prime.
The decks have been cleared and Kohli’s troops will play their first day and night Test during the second game of the two-match series against Bangladesh at Kolkata’s famous Eden Gardens from November 22 to 26. It is a welcome move and whatever be the reservations of countering the pink ball under lights or the slippery dew-factor that could sedate the guile in a spinner’s fingers, Indian cricketers need to upskill themselves to the varied challenges that a day and night Test could throw up.
Interestingly, so far 11 Tests have been played under floodlights across diverse cities and all these skirmishes yielded a verdict. Fans, adapting to the new schedule, would obviously prefer a result after five or four days, rather than walk into the long night mulling over a stalemate, however dull or exciting it was. It is in the fitness of things that India’s famous metro in the East, gets its rightful share of limelight. Kolkata was India’s first capital under the British. And the Eden Gardens has its share of chequered history, be it hosting the 1987 World Cup final involving Australia and England or propping up that game for the ages — the 2001 Test in which V. V. S. Laxman (281), Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh combined forces to stun Steve Waugh’s Aussies and that too after suffering the ignominy of a follow-on. While it is easy to say ‘let there be light’, we cannot ignore cricket’s metaphorically dark corners.
Just as Kolkata gears up to welcome its linguistic cousins from a Dhaka or a Chittagong, the imminent Test’s lustre dimmed a wee-bit due to Bangladesh skipper and leading all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan’s wretched dalliance with bookies a year back. He may not have fixed games but in failing to report these corrupt approaches, Shakib made himself vulnerable and the ICC did the right thing in banning him for two years (with one year being a suspended sentence).
The Bangladesh and Indian fans will miss him but Shakib has to face the consequences of his action. Sport despite its sweat and swear-words, is about the higher moral plane, it is almost utopian in its construct and that fabric was torn asunder. While Shakib’s current fall would serve as a cautionary tale, it is time to sit back and look forward to India’s debut in day and night Tests.
Kohli’s men hold the edge while Ganguly, proud in his hometown, can watch the action unfold from his presidential box. And the delirious fans would say in the years to come: “ Ami okhane chilam ." Surely there is no harm in saying ‘I was there’ while history gets a fresh twist at the Eden.
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