Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pink balls: first class and possibly the last hope

Q-AH: "If India win the WC, would that be more special that winning a Test series against a formidable SA in SA?"
A-AH: Difficult to tell - India stopped short of winning the series this January. Had India won the SA test series, I would have probably gone ahead and said 'No'. Actually a World Cup win would be a collective joy, something that I can enjoy with all...without being extra special to me personally. I will be excited & delighted about a WC win all right, but I won't dream about it like a smitten schoolboy for days on end. An away Test series win against the best side available, on the other hand, would certainly have been a personal moment of cherish.
Q-AH: Could you say that the response of too many others who follow cricket would be the same?
A-AH: Can't say. It depends on the section of followers we consider.
Q-AH: Explain.
A-AH: The relative importance of Tests and limited-overs cricket varies across the globe. Even in the same region, it will vary across the generations. In India, Tests are back in spotlight mainly because India are number 1. The following for Tests is still not much compared to ODI's and is restricted mainly at cities ..which in turn are now falling short in comparison to T20's. Generally it is limited overs cricket that has a far bigger fan base, especially so in the younger generations.
Q-AH: Why do you think it is so?
A-AH: Because for the last 20 years, generations are growing up seeing all the focus from media and sponsors on limited overs cricket. Also - to be truthful - people have lesser time in their lives these days to witness Test matches.
Q-AH: Why do you think people have less time for Tests?
A-AH: They now have lot more options to invest their time on. Cricket itself has produced one - T20.
Q-AH: Do you think Tests will ever get back the following of pre-ODI days?
A-AH: No
Q-AH: Do you think Tests will ever get back the following of pre-T20 days?
A-AH: Don't know - but this one can be tried. And it MUST try before T20 internationals gain more ground (T20 is still more of a club game than international sport).
Q-AH: How does a 5 day game attack a 3 hour game which is getting lapped up by masses?
A-AH: It will need support from the administration. But the first target is to create competition in the strength of these T20's - essentially that 9-to-5 people can follow these 3 hour games fully with no impact whatsoever to their careers. If Tests are going to survive, they must invade this 'time slot advantage' territory and take it from there.

That's quite a frightening conversation with myself.
We are just not aware of the exact current health of the support base of Test cricket.
In general, all awareness of the viewership health comes from qualitative judgement from people writing their pieces from own, coloured standpoints.
That won't do.

We need cold, unbiased facts. The viewership data....for Tests, for ODI's, for T20's....From television audicences across the globe. From the ticket counters of stadia. With locationwise breakup. With age-wise breakups if possible.

We need it NOW. It will form the 'before expt' data.
And then we start the experimental period of say, 3 years. QA period where first class cricket is played in pink balls, starting late afternoon and ending at 10 pm. Not only for Tests, but also for Ranji matches, Duleep matches, County matches - everywhere....certainly wherever the players and boards agree.

Then at the end of the period we take a second set of data. The 'after expt' data.

We inspect what we have. We compare the two sets of data.
From that data, a picture will emerge.
We will get a good indication if Test cricket can soldier on inspite of 'loss of territory' or it is scheduled to die away.

If Test cricket fades away, cricket as we know it today also goes with it. We will then have players groomed without skills to last 2 days at a stretch in whatever weather they are exposed to...players 'designed' for limited overs cricket ONLY (which NONE of the current players are)....players who will play the game in such an alien fashion that we will identify the rules & the equipment but not the game.

If the data reflects 'regaining of territory', the experiment is taken further logically and Test cricket is redsigned in the next 10-15 years based on tweaks and subsequent results of those tweaks.Tweaks that do not alter the freedom that the basic first class game offers to all players (batsmen / bowlers / captains / fielders) or the endless possibilities that can emerge from the format.

Either way...those of us who hope to see the return of first class cricket as the prime form of cricket will be expressing gratitude to those who at least tried to do something for it.

I am one of them.
I hope the one-off experiment being carried out at Abu Dhabi does not remain one-off.
I hope we see bowlers running in with pink balls everywhere by the end of this year.
See them for yourselves: Pic 1: Pic 2

Update: An experimental first class match between MCC & Nottinghamshire was played out with a pink ball for the first time. After the match, Rahul Dravid endorsed furthering the experiment of using pink balls for First Class matches and Tests, albeit with a few more 'tweaks' to the rules.

He made a few comments on the experimental first class match in which he participated. Rahul scored a duck in the first innings and a century in the 2nd. Here's an excerpt of his quotes from the MCC report:

"As with any new innovation administrators and the players will need to take a leap of faith at some point." said the 38-year-old batsman.

"I think there is definitely a future if people are going to have to have an open mind to it."
Despite some issues, the day/night matches have been deemed a success and Dravid would like to see more experiments in the future.

He added: "It was a new experience batting against the pink ball under the lights. I never found sighting the ball under the lights a problem at all.

"There are some things which need to be looked at - for example the twilight period and dew which can be a problem in some parts of the world.

"But there is definitely a future for day-night Test and First-Class cricket.

"I think there are a few further tweaks that need to be made, and it would be beneficial to play some more trial matches at different venues and in different conditions as well."
Hope we see pink balls and day-night first class games sooner rather than later.

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