February 19, 2010

The rot in rotation

India's rotation policy, which allocates Tests to venues, is obsolete and needs ruthless, radical change

Harbhajan Singh was low, beat up; he'd had a catch dropped off his bowling and couldn't buy a maiden, let alone a wicket. Then, in his 16th over, he got a top edge from Jacques Kallis, saw VVS Laxman take a catch running back, looked towards the crowd, raised his arms, and saw the crowd rise in sync.

In his next over, with 35,000 behind him, he took two wickets in two balls. The 35,000 appealed with him for both those wickets and celebrated with him when the appeals were upheld. Twice he went on celebratory runs, towards his friends, the Eden Gardens crowd, who made him believe he could get a wicket every ball. They were the fabled 12th man - intimidating the batsmen and making Harbhajan a completely different bowler from Nagpur.

Imagine Harbhajan getting on a similar roll in Nagpur, creating momentum, celebrating wildly, trying to get the crowd into the batsman's ear, going on those runs towards the stands. He would have been greeted by empty blue upholstered chairs, and the air-conditioned boxes, marginally better populated with the board president's guests.

Take his home ground, in Mohali. If he went on his celebratory run there, he would have seen sunlight bouncing off uncovered and unsurprisingly empty stands. Sachin Tendulkar knows that feeling: he broke Brian Lara's record for most Test runs in front of practically nobody in Mohali.

Add Ahmedabad, where the turnout is a little better, but still disappointing, and you have three regular Test-match venues in India where Test cricket gets short shrift. Play an ODI or a Twenty20 and people - despite the uncovered stands, despite the distance from the city - throng the same stadiums.

Between this last Kolkata Test and the one before that, at the end of 2007, six Tests have been played in Nagpur, Mohali and Ahmedabad. During those matches, Tendulkar overtook Lara, India completed a series win over Australia, Rahul Dravid engineered a stunning comeback from 32 for 4. Still this Kolkata Test alone was probably watched by more people than all six others put together.

To watch those six Tests was to find some merit in the view held by the rest of the world that India - the country, not the team - doesn't care about Test cricket. To watch the one at the Eden Gardens was a pleasant reassurance that India did. That Test cricket was alive and kicking in India, the only place able to draw more than 100,000 - the figure when Eden Gardens is not undergoing renovation - to a Test match.

Harbhajan paid his friends at the ground a fitting tribute: "In Test matches, we don't even get crowds, but Eden [Gardens] is probably the best ground, as you get the crowds for the whole five days. It does not matter whether India is batting or bowling."

That sentiment, doubtless shared by Harbhajan's peers, cuts no ice with the BCCI's rotation policy: The Test against South Africa was the second at Eden Gardens since March 2005. Whether this is because of board politics - the lack of Tests coincides with a shift in power from Jagmohan Dalmiya to Sharad Pawar and Shashank Manohar - is immaterial now: the policy is obsolete anyway and needs ruthless, radical change. The purest form of the game, generally reckoned to be an endangered species nowadays, should be played at venues that care for it.

So, it is time to strike Nagpur, Mohali and Ahmedabad off the list of Test venues. The logic is simple: There is a clear mismatch there between the crowds and Test cricket. The crowds in Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, even Kanpur, and to a lesser extent Delhi, support Test cricket with their presence in the stands and should each get a match every year. They are not necessarily the best stadiums but the players will trade in the advantages - the state-of-the-art facilities, the hospitality, the indoor nets - for a large, appreciative, knowledgeable crowd that creates atmosphere. And that's true of hosts and tourists.

It will, for one, restore some of the sanctity previously accorded to the Test-match schedule. In a recent piece in the Hindu, S Venkataraghavan, the former India offspinner, wrote about the Pongal Test in Chennai. "In Madras, this festival [traditionally in mid-January] used to be synonymous with Test cricket at Chepauk," he wrote. "Schedules were carefully drawn so that a Test match was played at Chepauk during the season."

That is like the Boxing Day and New Year's Tests in Australia and South Africa, annual events that people plan for months ahead. The last time Chennai saw a Pongal Test, though, was in 1988, and there have been only 10 Tests there since. With nine venues and only five or six home Tests a year, it is impossible to develop this sort of a certainty. Take out three venues and Test cricket can become an annual event in the venues where it is cherished: Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kanpur (with improved facilities) and Delhi.

Tendulkar is currently three short of 50 Test centuries. If he reaches the landmark in, say, Australia or England, thousands will stand and applaud. In Mohali, a couple of schools will promise their kids free lunch and send them to the staidum for a two-hour outing. The visiting team will be confounded by the callousness of the people. Let's rule out that possibility. Especially when there is another city willing to sell out a stadium meant to take in 90,000. Whether India is batting or bowling.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on February 24, 2010, 3:20 GMT

    Test Cricket has to be played at major well equipped venues - 4 metros, Mohali, Banglaore, Hyderabad and Kanpur(?), in that order - until other cities show they have the liking for it. How will we know? Stage important Ranji/Duleep Trophy matches and see if the crowd gathers. For example, the recent Ranji Duleep finals at Mysore and Hyderabad were really good and gripping contests. If the crowds show up, then hold some Tests in such qualifying venues.

  • ThreePoundWillow on February 23, 2010, 23:58 GMT

    Agreed. Venues should earn test match status not on their facilities but on the number of people in the stands. Having said that, the BCCI has plenty of cash, why not fix up these stadiums in places where test cricket gets the respect it deserves? Why do places like Ahmedabad, Nagpur and Mohali deserve test matches when all they care about in those locations is the modern day obscenity of T20 cricket. Test matches belong to Bombay, Madras, Bangalore, Calcutta and Delhi.

  • Nampally on February 23, 2010, 20:54 GMT

    India need to fix the test venues. If there are 5 test matches, there should be 3 fixed centres and other 2 go by rotation. Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkatta should be fixed venues. Other venues by rotation involve Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi & Kanpur. Venues like Jaipur, Nagpur should be excluded for tests because there is not much cricket following there. There should also be a 3 or 5 year Test schedule drawn up in advance. India should also have 30 fixed test team members selected every year based on form - 14 bowlers +14 batsmen + 2 wk. The same should also apply to the ODI's. There should be a 10 man trainingcamp to fast bowlers and similar one for spinners. Indian bowlers are attrocious and need a year round training. Sharma, Sreesanth, Irfan Pathan, Tyagi & Patel must attend the camp. A training camp for batsmen is also needed. Unless these camps are put in place India will not maintain its #1 status in test cricket.

  • jbenja on February 23, 2010, 13:28 GMT

    An excellent article. While we are dying to have cricket in Chennai this stupid BCCI is only interested in conducting matches in places where their bosses are from.(Nagpur and Mohali) I had watched a few test matches matches at Mumbai some years ago and it was an awesome experience. But unfortunately I have not had a chance to experience that awesome feeling in Chennai ever since I moved here a few years back. I hope some better sense prevails soon and we get to see some matches in Chennai. Thanks to Sidharth for coming up with this article

  • Srikantesh on February 23, 2010, 12:55 GMT

    Yes! BCCI is really don't have a proper policy to allot Test to the venues. What the mess-up they doing by this rotation policy. Let them follow it for ODI/20-20 why for Test when most of the venues not participated by crowds. Of course overall the situation in entire world is not so good. May be day/night test will be the answer to address this problem as many working community cant' afford 5 days of of leave. But BCCI must and should allot the Test for better venues in terms of Fan-following and see that can we get a cricketing season in place where leisure/festivities in the particular region be better utilised. Cricinfo Please convey Fans feelings to BCCI.

  • satty_kolkata on February 23, 2010, 12:23 GMT

    there's no question regarding making the above mentioned 6 venues for test cricket.whether some place cant provide crowd coz people r busy with their jobs..great excuse anyway.ok as people dont get time to visit the field then y hold the match at that venue atall.after all cricketers play for their country.even they want the support behind them.the roar when tendulkar is batting in mumbai gives him the want to excel once more.when u hear the kolkata crowd cheer when bhajji is running up the pitch its deafening.it just seems to bring out the best in any player.its always seen that performance wise cricketers thrive in these venues.laxman,bhajji, in eden.kumble in delhi n chennai.dravid in chennai as well as tendulkar.it really makes a difference when u see the crowd behind u.it motivates u to give such matchwinning innings or bowling.

  • SridharSampath on February 22, 2010, 22:58 GMT

    Good article, couldn't agree more. I pray that a Pongal Test match on a sporting pitch at Chepauk will become a reality in the next 2 years. Will cricinfo sponsor a petition to the BCCI on this issue?

  • sanzo5 on February 22, 2010, 20:57 GMT

    i guess BCCI is using test cricket to safegaurd itself to pay less tax to the government by scheduling the matches in unmanned stadiums....

  • shriram2977 on February 22, 2010, 19:23 GMT

    Count me in...I'll plan my vacation for the Pongal test. I still cherish my childhood days at this remarkable chepauk pitch...the noise as u get nearer and nearer, the crowd and definitely the aroma of a fresh cricket in play.

  • Mina_Anand on February 22, 2010, 17:36 GMT

    To bis_d, and the other test loving folks: Yes, I would be the first to sign up for the petition. seriously.... if test matches come back to chennai - i have my five-day 'test match' leave letter ready !

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