For some years now, there has been much hand-wringing about Test cricket’s dwindling popularity in India. It’s been an annual moan of sorts when crisp television images show men in whites running around in empty stadiums. On Thursday, at their Tour and Fixtures committee meeting, the BCCI plans to take Test cricket to new venues, to smaller cities. The cricket board wants India to play six of the thirteen Tests scheduled this season in new venues.
There are two schools of thoughts about drawing in crowds to stadiums for Tests. The first believes Tests should be restricted to venues where it’s appreciated and cherished — cities like Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Kanpur and Delhi where empirical evidence suggests an affinity towards Test match cricket. The other view is to spread Tests to smaller tier-two cities whose citizens have never seen Test match live at a stadium. The Indian cricket board wants to take the second option to check the response. They have 13 Tests to play with, and BCCI president Anurag Thakur is confident that the abundance can only help his plan.
India are set to play three Tests against New Zealand, five against England, and further four against Australia at the start of next year. There is also a Test planned against Bangladesh for later this year though there is no clarity yet about its dates.
It’s learnt that the Thursday meeting will decide on venues for Test matches for this calendar year, and the centres for Australia Tests would be decided later.
16 Test venues
The wheels were set in motion last November during BCCI’s AGM when the decision was taken to grant Test status to six new centres — Dharamsala, Pune, Ranchi, Indore, Visakhapatnam, and Rajkot. The new influx had increased the number of Tests centres to 16.
Weather would play an important role in the allotment. “Before awarding venues, the committee will have to consider the weather reports too, as some parts of India witness rain after September too. The BCCI will be only finalizing venues for New Zealand and England. As Australia tour of India is next year, the venues for that series will be decided later,” a BCCI official said.
The proposed plan to play a pink ball Test against New Zealand would also play a role in choosing an appropriate venue. The experiences with pink ball in countries like Australia have shown that the pitch, the outfield, and the light conditions play a huge part in the pink experiment. “We will be playing a pink ball Test too, so for that we need a venue which we think can meet the requirement,” the official said.
In an interview with The Indian Express last November, Anurag Thakur, who was the BCCI secretary then, had explained the rationale to push for newer Test centres. “If you look at Mohali, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, they host T20 games, IPL all in a year. That’s the reason the crowd stays away from the Tests matches. Even globally, the following of Test cricket is going down. We find less spectators at bigger venues which have huge sitting capacity,”Thakur had said.
‘Important to reach out’
“I think it is important to reach out to the tier-two, tier-three cities where you can have a larger audience. And I personally feel that will help. These new six Tests centres have already hosted international ODI-T20’s.”
Thakur also drew a parallel with the emergence of cricketers from smaller places to make his point. “If cricketers from remote cities can play for India, then why can’t Test cricket go to remote places. The idea is to promote the game.”
He also pointed out the newer centres have stadiums with better facilities. “For example, Pune and Dharmshala are much better grounds than most others. So why should they be left behind? In the coming years, you need to re-think on it as well. Many members say, why do we need ‘permanent’ Test centres? I don’t want to name anyone but the new centres have far better facilities than these ‘permanent centres.”