It’s time to act

The roaring success of Twenty20 is posing a serious threat to the other formats of the game, and quite obviously, it becomes imperative for the administrators to find ways and means to save them very quickly.

The sparsely filled stadium at the Sabina Park during the ongoing ODI series between India and West Indies is an indication that the administrators have to really do something to get the crowds back for the ODIs. And this being the current situation, they have a real challenge to make Test cricket appealing enough for the public to come in good numbers.

The roaring success of Twenty20 is posing a serious threat to the other formats of the game, and quite obviously, it becomes imperative for the administrators to find ways and means to save them very quickly. While it is important to retain the glory and tradition of Test cricket, one must not forget that the ODIs need some attention as well. A lot of thought is being put into making Test cricket more attractive and the ICC is exploring various options.

One of them is to make Test cricket a day and night affair and while there is no doubt that it will create some interest among the public, there are several issues that need to be considered.

Firstly, the ball, whether it is white or pink, will get discoloured in countries where the pitches are dry and the outfields are not grassy. This will force the umpires to change the ball periodically and as a result of the change, the rub of the green can go either way.

Secondly, the dew factor will come into play. There is no predicting the intensity of the dew and again, there will be no guarantee of a level playing field.

Thirdly, the luminosity of the lights can vary from place to place, and though the variations that pitches can offer are welcome, any variations otherwise can be a problem. A lot of grumbling will result and the ICC, which is not a great organisation in terms of being decisive, is likely to run into problems on a regular basis.

The other option that is being seriously considered is the two-tier system which has some merit in it but the ICC needs to get the consent of the Test-playing nations on the cut-off period from which this can be implemented. The reason I say this is because of the rankings changing periodically and that is dependant on the schedule of the FTP. The two-tier scenario will be interesting provided the Test-playing countries reach a consensus. However, one can imagine the furore if one of the leading nations is slotted in the second tier based on current performance.

The objective is to get the public to watch Test cricket and hence there needs to be some innovation to probably enhance the chances of a result in a game. Basically, the public wants to see the match ending in a result and one of the ways is to restrict the number of overs in an innings even in a Test match. There are several permutations and combinations one can conjure up when a minimum of 450 overs have to be bowled over five days.

Talking of result-oriented options, the review system will be in place from October. If the India-Sri Lanka series of last summer was anything to go by, the review system can play an important role. One mistake by an umpire at a crucial stage can sometimes change the fate of a game in Test cricket and the review system is likely to reduce the mistakes that umpires at times make. The captains and teams need to use the opportunities in invoking the review judiciously, and if a team can get it right often, then the chances of a result are increased. The Lankans got it right against the Indians last summer and this was one of the reasons for their victory in that Test series. Though the review system cannot be termed foolproof, it is at least a start and unless it is found to be extremely erratic, it is worth a try.

It is not just that Test cricket is losing its charm; the ODIs are in danger of a possible extinction as well. The one-dayers are not getting crowds to full capacity as they did sometime ago. Something needs to be done quickly to woo the crowds back. The biggest challenge for the administrators lies in keeping the core character of each format intact and yet making it interesting for the spectators.

Twenty20, no doubt, rakes in a lot of money but if it is going to dilute the importance of other formats, then it becomes critical for the ICC to get the balance right in terms of generating revenue and yet keeping the public interest alive for all formats. Hopefully, the administrators will put their heads together and find a formula whereby they will be able to get the mix of the various formats right in the future. Otherwise, they will be spending a lot of time and money trying to look at possibilities and they will all remain just possibilities.