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How to keep the apparently outdated Test cricket in vogue is the big question everyone seems to be asking. While debates and discussions are gaining momentum, MCC has gone ahead and renovated the format for others to either follow suit or mull over. The only format to be played exclusively at day time might now be played under lights and with a pink ball. Obviously, the intent to save the oldest format of the sport is pretty evident.
But what is it that has led to taking such drastic steps to revamp the most classic format? Well, the first problem is the empty stadia and dropping TRPs and second is the lack of interest shown by the youngsters in the longest format.
The first proposal is to make it a day-night affair to cater to the prime-time television. Apparently it isn't only the viewers in the stadium who are missing but also the people who watch the action on telly that are giving it a miss. While cricket at prime-time might increase viewership, it won't be a bad idea to get to the root cause of dwindling interest. In my humble opinion people are staying away from Test cricket for a variety of reasons. First could be the meaningless matches (say Bangladesh v India). Regardless of the build-up, it would take some serious love for the game to watch the batsmen piling up runs against hapless bowling.
But it is not only the matches amongst the unequal which fail to ignite interest. Even the two top teams playing on a dead-flat track would face similar fate. The series Australia played against India in 2008-09 would be the prime example of not producing interesting cricket despite the best in the business locking horns.
Getting rid of meaningless matches may not be possible, for how would weaker teams improve otherwise? But at the same time I'm not sure if getting a royal beating by bigger teams every time is helping them either. Hence we may need to tweak the rules a bit to accommodate them till they reach a certain level. My suggestion is to put a cap on the number of overs a team can bat to 125 in the first innings and 100 overs each in the second dig. This might ensure that the stronger team won't run away with the game and the weaker team isn't out of it either. And it goes without saying; ICC must ensure that Test Cricket is not played on a road but on tracks which have something in it for everyone.
The second fold of the problem is that young cricketers don't seem to be interested in playing the longer format any more. They'd rather play in the lucrative T20 leagues than toiling hard for years to acquire the requisite skills to succeed in Test cricket. Let's face it. These youngsters have choices in front of them and you can't blame them for choosing the more profitable option. After all one can earn more money in 60 days of T20 cricket than what you'd get after playing for the country in Test cricket for 5 years. I think it's about time that we increase the financial reward substantially for playing Test cricket but also bring that in to public knowledge. Every Test hundred, a five-for and a win should attract monetary rewards. This might ensure that the Cheteshwar Pujaras and Rahul Dewans of the cricketing world won't sacrifice their technique and temperament to get on to the T20 bandwagon.
It may not be possible for not-so-rich cricket boards across the world but since India hosts the most lucrative T20 league, it can definitely do its bit to safeguard the interest of the oldest form of cricket.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.