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'India needs a proper calendar, for the sake of world cricket'
Rahul Dravid and Sanjay Manjrekar on the state of Test cricket in India, and how to keep it in good health (38:06)
February 22, 2010
Time Out with Harsha Bhogle
'India needs a proper calendar, for the sake of world cricket'February 22, 2010
Harsha Bhogle: Welcome once again to Time Out with Harsha on ESPNcricinfo. We are joined by Sanjay Manjrekar, and we are very excited for Rahul Dravid is with us at the other end. It is particularly exciting as our main discussion today is about Test cricket in India and Rahul is critical to this programme because he's someone who's got his heart in the right place at all times.
We've come out of a very good series against South Africa, one of many such series around the world. Rahul, there appears to have been a resurgence of Test cricket in India as well as around the world. What do you think is the reason?
Rahul Dravid: It's partly got to do with the kind of positive cricket teams are willing to play. Whether that's been a spin-off of ODIs and Twenty20 cricket, you do see teams playing a lot more positively, looking to score at a quicker rate which means you produce a result in five days, or at least close to a result. In the last couple of years, there have been some really exciting series, especially when they've been played by two teams that are competitive.
HB: And certainly with this one, you must have been sitting at home and wondering "Rather than my jaw, I wish it had been my bat that was doing all the talking." Do you think it was the pitches that produced the good matches, or was it that the teams matched each other?
RD: The pitches are critical. When you have good cricket wickets, that makes a huge difference. The ability to take 20 wickets in a Test match is what makes a good Test match. In both cases, in Nagpur and in Kolkata, we saw that - even though it went on to the fifth day in the second Test. There was always something that kept the bowlers interested, and that's critical. Going ahead, if you want Test cricket to survive, you've got to ensure that Tests are played on good cricket wickets that give everyone a chance. Bounce is a critical factor. If you have wickets that have bounce, it allows people to play shots, as we've seen with Sehwag, Sachin and Laxman in the last series, and with Amla. You have people who play shots and play positively, but it also gives the fast bowlers and the spinners enough later on to keep them all interested in the game.
HB: Sanjay, you're also a batsman. Here's one batsman talking almost with concern and care for bowlers.
Sanjay Manjrekar: That happens with people like Rahul and me. We are concerned about cricket and not just about our batting.
HB: Also, somewhere down the line, when the bowlers are doing well, you value your runs more as well, don't you?
SM: Absolutely. You've got to be aware, even for a pure batsman, that you want the sport to grow and want all the dimensions of the game to come into play. However, I don't think we should get too excited and start seeing a resurgence in Test cricket. I don't think there is a resurgence. There have been some good Test matches, but [the word] resurgence may be hyping it a bit too much. We had an excellent Test series finish between India and South Africa, two extreme results in two Tests, and a lot of people were talking about it, which are encouraging signs. But I'm not sure there is a resurgence; that will happen only if Test cricket becomes commercially viable and survives along with the IPLs the Twenty20s and one-day cricket. That's when we could say there has been a revival of Test cricket.
HB: Resurgence, maybe from a point of view that we are getting good results in Test-match cricket. So people are saying that Test cricket is not necessarily with one foot in the grave. It is still alive and kicking. Would you have liked seeing three [matches in the series] or is that a stupid question?
SM: Because the result was 1-1, people are talking about the third Test match. But as a practice, we should have three Test matches. There have been many occasions where we've had four ODIs or two Tests. If India had won the two Tests, nobody would have talked of it as much. But maybe the ICC could start looking at discouraging the practice of having two-Test series. I believe India is now looking at playing Australia in a two-Test series.
HB: Frankly, in my view, they should not allow two Test matches at all. Rahul, from a player's point of view: two Tests?
RD: Three Test matches is ideal. I agree with Sanjay there. In this case, with the talk of the Australian series coming up, these have come in outside of the calendar. But in an ideal scenario… in my whole career now, I've played only one Test series that has included five Tests, and in the old days that [playing five Tests] was the norm.
HB: That's an incredible stat in itself, that you've played just one. That was West Indies in 2006?
RD: No, that was just four Tests. It was actually 1997, when West Indies won. But I agree with Sanjay. Three Tests is a must, and you don't get the feeling then that you're pushing it there just for the sake of it.
HB: I'm just a little worried, Sanjay. Here we are, lovers of Test cricket and, almost, people are saying, "Here, two more, take what you get."s
SM: And it's not about what we like. Finally it's about the fans who actually flock to the stadiums and get the TRPs up. Those are the guys who will have to start getting used to Test cricket, or liking Test cricket.
HB: But you've got to give them Test match cricket for them to like it.
SM: I think the BCCI has started giving Test cricket for a very important reason, and we all know the reason for that. Rahul mentioned the pitches that were responsible for the good Test cricket we've seen recently. But South Africa coming to India was one of the reasons why we had such a good a Test series. It's a team that is tough to beat in India. We had Sri Lanka before that. That's a series people have quickly forgotten. They will remember some individual performances from that series.
HB: It was a Test series people were quite happy to forget.
SM: Rahul made a good point. Test cricket will get attention only if good teams are playing against each other. Not the 10 nations involved sporadically against each other.
HB: But you do know that in the spirit of great co-operation and reconciliation, we are going to play Sri Lanka again in a Test series. The only miracle there is that we don't play Sri Lanka until July-August. What will we do?
RD: To be honest, from this team's point of view, for us to go back and play in Sri Lanka again is something of a good thing. I know we've played them often enough, but we haven't really won there. Sanjay was part of a team that won there, in 1994, and we haven't won a series there after that. We were pretty disappointed with the way we played the last time. From our point of view, it would be nice to go back there and win another series there. The more the merrier [laughs].
HB: [Laughs]. I won't get into why that is so. But tell me of this whole romance of Test cricket. Are three of us sitting here three romantics who have cut themselves off from the real world, or do you think there is a younger generation that shares this desire to see Test cricket?
RD: I think there is a desire to see, or at least follow, Test cricket. There is no doubt about it. I didn't play this Test series [against South Africa] and I was sitting at home. Wherever I went, with friends of mine or acquaintances, everyone was following this Test series closely. It was a very good series with two very good teams, and maybe that was the case. But you could sense that people, while they may not have had the time to sit in front of their television sets or go to the venues, they keenly followed this Test series. They valued what people did in Test cricket. That's important, that's an encouraging sign. Going ahead, I don't know whether we'll be able to actually judge the success of Test cricket based on bums on seats. I don't know if we're ever going to see the old days where we had packed stadiums for Test matches. I don't know whether in this day and age it is actually ever possible. Maybe there have got to be other yardsticks to judge whether Test cricket is successful or flourishing. I don't know if the economics are ever going to work out now in Test cricket.
HB: I think we need to change our benchmarks now, Rahul. There used to be a time when you sold a certain number of top-end cars. Now, as the cheaper cars come in, that number has to be rationalised a little bit.
Sanjay, you've played Test cricket in front of 40- to 50,000 people. I think if you get anything above 15,000 today, you're doing well. Let's accept that.
SM: Absolutely. We saw a Test match recently on television at The Oval and it was packed. That's one thing you don't see [here]. Even at the Eden Gardens, there were a few empty seats. But there's another thing. I'm always looking at the commerce of cricket and that will dictate whether a certain brand or certain style of cricket will continue to be there in the long term. As Rahul mentioned, there were a lot of people following this Test series because it was a story that was being told to people over four days. And then, India had the reply coming in at the Eden Gardens, which also went on for another four or five days. For two weeks, there was one story being told about two characters, India and South Africa, and that could be commercially viable. And maybe we'll get somebody from television to tell us whether having people watching a bit of cricket over four or five days, not right through the day, can also raise the stakes in television rights for Test cricket.
RD: I was in my car many times during the course of these two Test matches and I followed it on All India Radio. I think that's a medium that we must tap into. If we can revolutionise radio commentary like we've done with television, especially in India, there's a great untapped market there. You're in your car thinking, "This is great commentary." How many people are in cars through the day and they're constantly on FM. I'm sure they'd rather be on AM, listening to the Test match and following a story with characters.
HB: Everyone in the studio is giving you a thumbs-up because that's what we all believe in, but…
RD: I don't know how this thing works, I'm sorry. I'm not part of the set-up...
HB: If you have a desire to produce good commentary, you get good commentators. If you don't have the desire, you don't. But while we still have you with us, when you started off with cricket, Test cricket was the romantic, the glamour thing. But you also meet the Rainas, the Rohits, the Pathans and the Jadejas. Do they still think Test cricket is the pinnacle, or would they not miss it too much if they didn't play 50 Tests?
RD: I think they say the right thing. They talk the talk, there's no doubt about it. If you talk to the younger kids today, they definitely do say the right things and say they would love to do well in Test cricket. But there is no all-consuming desperation for them, like there was for myself or cricketers of my generation, to do well in Test cricket. First-class and Test cricket were the only cricket we had. Today there are other avenues, opportunities and options. I'm not even worried about the Rainas and the Rohit Sharmas today; they've still grown up in an era when Test cricket was important. I'm sure when they were 14-15, their coaches would have been talking to them about Tendulkar, Sehwag or a Ganguly. But I wonder what a 14-15-16-year-old today is thinking. I wonder what what's going to happen five years ahead, and that's why it's important to play more Test matches.
HB: But maybe they think cricket personalities are Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty.
SM: Rahul, if you remember, there were senior players when we were playing first-class cricket that we came across. For me, they were Ravi Shastri or Sunil Gavaskar. They would tell us stories about Test cricket. And you wanted to be them. It is important, say 10-15 years from now, that there are senior players romanticising Test cricket and showing the next generation that that's where they would want to be. I doubt if that will be the case. That has tremendous influence on young players. I watched Under-19 cricket in New Zealand. I saw the kind of influence senior players or role models of that generation have on young players. So if they don't have role models of Test cricket...
HB: Maybe they'll all start playing the Dilscoop.
RD: I agree with Sanjay. The history of the game is very important and that's what places like the National Cricket Academy that have these kids at such young ages must look into.
HB: Is that being idealistic, Rahul?
SM: What would be more realistic, Rahul, would be to have contemporary heroes, who shine at the Test level, become role models for the young kids.
HB: Send Rahul, VVS and the others from time to time to talk to these kids.
SM: So if a younger player, say Ravindra Jadeja, is watching a Dravid or Tendulkar playing Test cricket, there could be some kind of a desire to be a Dravid or Tendulkar. Fifteen years from now, I'm not sure. The generation after next, that I'm not so sure about.
HB: Maybe there's another thing we can do to make Test cricket more popular. You find that good venues are producing good cricket. Mumbai produces good Test matches, Eden Gardens produced a good Test match, Chennai seems to produces some really good ones. Do you want to have fixed venues for Test cricket, or do you want to take it around everywhere?
SM: I like that suggestion very much. Some places just have a history of Test cricket, and people there are in love with Test cricket and they have time for it. At the Cricket Club of India, against Sri Lanka, you saw a lot of people come in because, for them, Test cricket is pure, sacred. They come with a different mindset; they expect something different and that's why they come there. That may not be the same for some of these smaller, new venues.
HB: Rahul, do you see a different buzz in different cities for Test cricket? Do you think it would work if we only had four or five Test-match venues and took the one-dayers around? I can see why they're taking it around. If Chennai gets a Test and doesn't get the one-dayer, that'll affect their commerce. So that's why they're saying it doesn't matter if we don't get a Test match from time to time.
RD: Maybe. Like Sanjay said, maybe it all comes down to commerce and finally the viability of things. Every state association is trying to use that Test match or ODI to run its whole programme for a year, or a couple of years sometimes. From their point of view it is [what it comes down to]. But I wonder sometimes whether it's actually viable for some of these associations and smaller venues to hold Test matches, and whether they need to be given the option themselves. But I guess spectators these days don't really make up a large part of the revenue, so maybe that's a factor. But there is a huge buzz in certain cities. When you go around India to play Test matches, it's almost a generational thing. My father and my grandfather brought me here to see a Test match, and I would take my son…
HB: Would you take Samit [son] to see a Test match?
RD: Definitely. If he was interested in going to one.
RD: I'm not so sure. My son actually has got no time for cricket. If the lunch is good, he might come.
HB: You've got the IPL, the Champions League, the ODIs and Tests. How would you prioritise that? Would you say you need a minimum of five Tests at home and play around that? Or would you create a window for the IPL, or a window for Test cricket? What would be your ideal way of going around the different forms of the game?
RD: England and Australia always had the advantage of being the first people to play the game, so they have their set domestic calendars. I think that is something that India must try and create, now that we are really powerful in the world game and we are in a position to do that. We must have our own domestic calendar, or six or seven months which are ideal for us to play cricket. And play our quota of six Tests and a certain set number of ODIs during that period, and then work around that. If we do that, at least during those six or seven months, everyone knows there's going to be cricket in these venues. That's very important. Australia and England have had that. And maybe that'll only be challenged when Australia have to come to India, or we have to tour Australia, but you could always work around those dates and ensure that happens.
HB: It's a great thought, something that some of us have been wishing for a long time. The only concern I see with that is that cricket is a winter sport in India and a summer sport in the southern hemisphere. But if we want to say, "These are our Champions League dates, come, otherwise go jump"? I'm not saying be arrogant about it, but we need to protect our domestic calendar - it gets finalised too late.
RD: Everyone around the world needs to recognise that Test cricket needs to thrive in India. Everyone knows now that it is important Test cricket succeeds in India for it to succeed worldwide as well. People have to come to this realisation in some other countries and recognise that India now needs to have a set international calendar for the benefit of the world game, really.
Test cricket and the dynamics of the television industry
HB: We have been talking Test cricket with Rahul Dravid and Sanjay Manjrekar and Sanjay did make the point about commerce coming in and all of us who have been around cricket have at some point been affected by the commerce of the game. We thought we'd talk to someone who had been in TV for a while: Joy Bhattacharya who worked at ESPN-Star Sports for a while, and for a real romantic of the game, he is now enveloped by commerce; he is part of the Kolkata Knight Riders. But he has always been someone who knows what is happening in TV.
Joy, tell me how does TV view cricket? Is Test cricket seen as a nice product, something monetarily viable, or is it some evil that comes as part of contract when you are signed to cover cricket?
Joy Bhattacharya: Basically it all depends on the price you get it at. For example, for India-Australia cricket in India, is a good property, but it is a better property if the price you get it at is reasonable. There are some rubbers, like Bangladesh v Zimbabwe, that have reached a stage where the amount of money that it takes to cover a match is not recovered by advertising. So in those cases Test cricket is not a viable option. But otherwise, like any other product, it is a matter of price. You have 500 channels on TV today and you have people who have TRPs of 00.1 and 00.2 who are doing well because the price at which they are buying the programmes is less than the price they are selling them at.
SM: I am not a romantic. The day I quit I became a realistic cricket follower. For Test cricket to survive, I have been stressing that it has to be commercially viable. Looking at the Test series between India and South Africa, we had two weeks of cricket in which we had 10 legal days of cricket and we got nine. Compare that to a one-day series of about five games where the series spans over 21 days and you have five days of live action. Is that something to consider: in Test cricket a story is being told over five days and thereby the interest of the viewer is held for a longer period of time?
JB: Test cricket has always had the numbers game on its side - the number of playing days as compared to the number of breaks has been on its side. Unfortunately, till about two-three years ago, one day of an ODI match sold at the same rate as five days of a Test. Whenever someone then went to sell in the market, the price of four ODIs and three Tests would be the same as seven ODIs. That now is changing. I am not sure if that is because Test cricket is more viable. It's because Twenty20 cricket has taken a lot of money out of the market. ODI cricket has become less viable than it used to be. If you look at your TV screens now, you will see much less interference than you saw four-five years ago. That is because the channels are hard put to sell the amounts of spots they have.
HB: The other way of looking at is that I'll take what I get. If I am not getting much I'll plaster my screen with push backs and L-shaped advertising stuff and show some cricket on it. That's the other danger isn't it?
JB: It is, but increasingly you will find that your TV screens will get cleaner because the advertiser is saying that he will buy a spot. A spot is an effective way of advertising. The channels' inventories are not getting sold. We had a situation about 6-7 months back when you didn't have ads between over breaks, and I have seen that happen after about eight years. Viability is a product of what the price is and except for situations where the viability of the product does not allow for telecast... any other situation, Test cricket is viable. Prices will come down and finally the market will adjust itself.
HB: Is there a feeling in TV that since I am running a 24-hour sports channel, I need to fill time? I am not going to get my gourmet meal but I need my dal-chawal stuff to keep my channel going. Is Test cricket viewed like that: I have seven hours filled in my day, it's something less to worry about?
JB: There is interest in Test cricket in India because India is No. 1. So a series involving Australia or Pakistan or South Africa would be marquee property. But today if India went out of the reckoning for the top spots then you would not be looking at the same numbers there.
HB: Basically let the world conspire to make India No. 1 or 2 (laughs)
JB: In the world of cricket they would conspire in anything to have India in the top one or 2.
SM: What is your guess - can Test cricket, in about 10-15 years from now, purely from the commercial angle, survive?
JB: I think it will. If you see what is happening, in the last 10-15 years, the TV market is much more specific. The internet is playing much more of a role. You might be watching matches on Youtube and your broadband will be good enough for you to get it. The issue is: will there be, in the next 10 years, 100,000 people who are willing to pay Rs. 100 a month to watch Test cricket? If that is the case, the rest of it will balance itself out. Increasingly the technology to address those 100,000 people will be there. And I am quite sure it is more than 100,000 people.
HB: So TV moves from being advertiser-driven to being subscriber-driven…
JB: Absolutely. There are more opportunities to target specific subscribers. So as long as you have 5 million people who love Test cricket, it doesn't need to go out to the other 385 million people who might be crazy about Twenty20 or ODI cricket. It can go to just those 5 million. The salvation of Test cricket lies in the hands of those 5-10 million people, who say nothing matches the pleasure of Test cricket.
SM: Are the young guys interested in the concept of Test cricket?
JB: I am not even sure whether they are interested in the concept of cricket in the big cities, let alone Test cricket. If you go a bit further back, what you will find in the big cities, in the upper-urban metropolitans, you will find that football and soccer is the game.
HB: Sanjay, if you ask your son, he will say Manchester United or Arsenal is his team.
SM: So who will keep Test cricket floating?
JB: I think it will be people like us, who love the game. Will that tribe fade away over time? It might. You will see a gradual wearing away of Test cricket, but in 10-15 years it will improve because you will be able to target the people who like Test cricket better.
Producer: Ranjit Shinde
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