TEST CRICKET FOR INDIA’S MILLIONS
India is now widely acknowledged as the centre of world cricket, which calls for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to rise to the occasion. The knowledgeable, and not just the traditionalists, also agree that Test cricket is indeed the ultimate form of the game which actually facilitates the truncated versions, the One-dayers and Twenty20.
BCCI needs to ensure that the weather and wickets are conducive when Test matches are played in India. Mid-October to mid-December, and then mid-February to mid-March are ideal for the game in North and East India. The period mid-December to mid-February is suitable for play in West and South India, a tribute to the diverse conditions in this ancient land. International matches, particularly Tests should be scheduled in a manner that makes full use of this bounty bestowed by nature. The just-concluded match at Mohali is a case in point, where fog played a dampner, and spiked what might have been a memorable encore.
Wickets too need to be looked at seriously. There is no secret that good wickets produce good cricket. In any case slow, low wickets are no longer to India’s advantage. The spinners are not running through the opposition simply because the tourists now know what to expect and have learnt to adapt. Seam is just as much India’s weapon now with the likes of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma showing the way, and others like Munaf Patel looking on from the bench. Lack of true bounce is also inhibiting India’s awesome strokeplayers, and there are more in this line-up than in any other team.
The great spectacle that was Test cricket in India in the days of yore has also been marred in recent years by the high price of tickets for these games. Ticket prices should be slashed for Test matches in direct proportion to improvement of facilities in the stands. Otherwise television is a very good option, and at no extra cost. Test match ticket prices in India are so high that it is cheaper to go on a vacation.
Telecasts too need to be streamlined. So much of play is lost to the viewer when commercials impinge on the action in the field. It is common courtesy on the part of the broadcaster to show the replay of a dismissal, along with the mode of dismissal and score of the outgoing batsman, before pressing the button for commercials, but in India it is often not so. This is akin to short-changing the viewer, who is directly responsible for getting in the commercials for the broadcaster in the first place.
And what of radio? It was this medium that made the game popular among the masses. And now when radio commentary is missing, a vital link between the game and the cricket-crazy populace has been rudely snapped. Every cricket enthusiast is aware of the legend of BBC’s Test Match Special, of those of the ilk of Brian Johnston, E.W. Swanton and John Arlott who became household names and as popular as the players themselves. India had its own luminaries like V.N. Chakrapani, whose golden voice so charmed the Australians during the Indian team’s tour Down Under in 1967-68, that they kept him back with Radio Australia for whom he read news for years. There was also Pearson Surita who regaled listeners with his laid-back style, and in recent years Harsha Bhogle, who on radio was amongst the best anywhere in the world. The cricket boom in India needs the revival of radio commentary of that order. Commentators ought to be hand-picked as much for their grasp of the game as for fluency and command over language, different specialists for Hindi and English. And as Sharda Ugra wrote in a recent article, All India Radio needs to do away with irritants such as ‘BSNL chauka’ and ‘BSNL sixer’. There are many more creative and effective ways of affording mileage to advertisers.
Now that so much money is flowing into Indian cricket, this is the very least that the cricket-loving millions of this vast nation deserve. One hopes BCCI will respond to the challenge now that they have plenty of time to ponder over matters.