Game upside downhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/game-upside-down/

Game upside down

As they trooped out at the Adelaide Oval for the third Test — the first ever five-day international day-and-night match with a pink ball — Australia and New Zealand turned the game on its head.

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New Zealand players celebrate after dismissing Australia’s Joe Burns during their cricket test in Adelaide, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015.

Down under, you sometimes get to spot a south-up map in which the world is shown upside down, with New Zealand and Australia in the top-left corner. The two nations did something similar to the world of Test cricket on Friday. As they trooped out at the Adelaide Oval for the third Test — the first ever five-day international day-and-night match with a pink ball — Australia and New Zealand turned the game on its head. They took tea before lunch, which was suitably renamed as dinner.

But that’s not the only thing that changed. The ball could no longer be called the red-cherry — it now resembled a giant baby-pink bubblegum. It behaved differently as well. Unlike the traditional red ball, which seams and swings the most in the first session of the day, its pink cousin, like Cinderella, came alive under the lights as wickets fell frequently.

Will that result in a change of batting and bowling strategies? Would the team batting first hold back its “openers” and make them bat lower down the order in the tweaked format? It may sound preposterous, but so did the very idea of day-and-night Tests just a few years ago. Naturally, the idea of a day-and-night Test match has divided the cricket world in two halves: The traditionalists and the proponents of change. The traditionalists, including former Australia captain Ricky Ponting and former England skipper Kevin Pietersen, hold that this experiment violates the sanctity of the purest form of the game. Pietersen has even suggested that statistics from these matches should not be mixed with the regular ones.

But others like Mark Taylor, another former Australian captain, view the change as the future of Test cricket. There is no doubt that Test cricket needed a shot in the arm. Crowds at Test matches, even in Australia, were disappearing faster than the polar ice cap due to global warming. In the last Australia-New Zealand match in Perth, for example, barely 3,000 spectators turned up on the final day to watch Mitchell Johnson retire. In fact, Johnson himself didn’t want to play the Test matches under the lights, as he is a staunch traditionalist. But if ticket sales are the measure, the people have voted against the traditionalist view, with brisk sales and hype rivalling the Ashes.

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It is also true that Test cricket, throughout its 138-year-old history, has been tweaked and changed quite a bit. So arguments based on the sanctity of the purest form of cricket are weak. On the other hand, the objections over the durability of the pink ball or its visibility at twilight, etc, are valid. However, these concerns can be addressed over time.

The fact remains that Test cricket needs to change in order to survive, but day-and-night cricket alone may not be sufficient. The latest change is just a makeover, when what is needed is a structural overhaul. Playing Test cricket needs to be incentivised in other countries, especially India. Here, for example, players get Rs 7 lakh for a Test match, while Rs 4 lakh to play an ODI. Compare this to the Rs 1 crore per match that Yuvraj Singh pocketed in the IPL 2015. Similarly, the top-rung Test team gets $1 million in prize money at the end of the year, whereas the team that wins the IPL rakes in $6 million. It shows that Tests need to be made more lucrative for players.

For spectators, too, Tests ought to be made more attractive. Day-and-night cricket is one such attempt. Better marketing, cheaper tickets and newer centres would also help. It is high time that the global Test championship, which has been postponed time and again, were finally rolled out. A vertically integrated competition would lend more significance to various bilateral series and make it relevant even for neutral fans.

daksh.panwar@expressindia.com