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Will day-night Tests pull crowds?

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One of the boldest steps taken by the ICC recently was the approval of day-night tests. I say bold because in general people are hesitant to change and especially change to a tradition which has been followed ever since the inception of the game.

With T20 games becoming extremely popular amongst fans, there has been a worry whether Test cricket still holds a place in this day and age. Players still feel that Test cricket is the ultimate judge of their skill. There are fans that still love the ‘purest’ form of the game over any of the limited versions, but receding crowds in most of the Test venues across the world has added to the fears.

I feel the way the world is moving on right now, it would be really hard to expect a large crowd in most venues during Test matches. It is really harsh to expect people to skip working days to come and watch an entire day’s play. We are heading into an era where we will have more and more fans following the game online rather than coming to the stadium to watch the game. I remember during the 1st Test between Australia and India at Mohali in 2010, when Laxman was playing one of his epic rear-guard innings, the number of viewers following the game on a particular website was too much for the website to handle causing it to crash. Yes it is sad that the crowds at the stadiums have reduced, but I don’t think the number of followers have. We have an increasing number of people who keep a tab open on the browser and follow the game ball by ball live. Maybe that would give us a real indicator how much Test cricket is being followed around the world.

Having said this, I feel the decision of the ICC to allow day-night Tests is a good one. For one, it may add a new perspective to the game, with the game starting at dusk and then extending into the night. The way the batsmen cope with the gradually changing conditions would be really interesting to observe. It can also bring in a lot more spectators to the game as well. People returning from their offices can go and watch the game as well. But there are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with before implementation at the international level. The colour of the ball has been a major discussion. Pink balls have been tested and seem to be successful but until we have a large enough sample size we won't be able to pass any judgment. Another problem they will have to look into is venues where day-night Tests can be accommodated. It will be pretty hard to do so in the subcontinent as the evening sets in, dew can provide undue advantage to the batting side. One way to look at the dew factor is that since it is a Test match, both teams will have to counter the dew while bowling unlike in ODIs where the side fielding second is at a disadvantage. But the fact is, with the dew,, spinners will find it hard to grip the ball and pitches in the subcontinent being heavily favoured for spin bowling, it could totally negate the effectiveness of a bowler.

With the advent of T20, it is going to be interesting how the next generations of cricketers are brought up. Will they adhere to the tradition of test cricket? Or will they just prefer playing the shortest format? It’s like driving a car, if you just want to drive a car, you can always opt for an automatic vehicle, but if you truly want to be a master of it, one has to learn how to shift gears according to the prevailing conditions.

In my younger days, nothing intrigued me more than waking up early on a cool wintery morning, sipping a cup of tea to watch a Boxing Day Test live. Maybe the time has come for a change. Maybe it is time to accept, that it will be hard to attract large crowds for test matches in the stadiums, but with growing technology we are heading into an age where we will have more followers online.



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