November 18, 2011

Oh no, not at Eden

The empty stands at the Kolkata Test have confirmed Test cricket has serious problems on its hands
134

A friend of mine, now about 40, wistfully remembers the time when he was much younger and was taken to watch a Test match at the Eden Gardens ("Obviously all five days!"). It was quite an event for him, as indeed it was to all of us when our turns came. You waited for it, you analysed the opposition, you picked the players you wanted to follow, got excited if one of them fielded at the boundary in front of you, and over dinner that night told your dad what you had liked and what you hadn't.

Another friend recalls the time his father told his teacher that it was more important that his son went to Chepauk to watch S Venkataraghavan bowl than to attend just another day at school. He didn't tell me what the teacher's reaction was. Presumably his father hadn't bothered with it (anyone who objected to a young boy watching cricket couldn't be right anyway).

Just to put the era into perspective: my older brother used to study in Kolkata. It took a couple of days, sometimes more, to get there from Hyderabad, and we didn't know he had reached safely until an inland letter arrived.

As you can imagine, much has changed since. And yet, when the Eden Gardens had just a few spectators dotting its vast stands this week, there was widespread despair. "Not in Kolkata," they spluttered into their Darjeeling tea, but I'm afraid it was. An occasion that has been a rite of passage, an initiation into the endless world of sport and joy for a young man, has been largely ignored. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, on whom ballads might be composed in Kolkata, hit centuries, and must have looked for fans to raise their bats to. This wasn't Kanpur or Mohali; this, sadly, was the Eden Gardens.

Yes, you could say the Test match started on a Monday (is any further proof needed that cricket is now largely a television sport?), that there had been holidays earlier, that there has been far too much cricket to follow, that the Kolkatan too needed to go to work. You could say all that and more. But the Eden Gardens is one of the homes of cricket and it was at home that Test cricket had been spurned.

It was also a week in which Haroon Lorgat formally announced that the World Test Championship had been put back to 2017. Poor Peter Roebuck said a lot could change in a week, and this is five years away. The ICC is disappointed, many players are disappointed, the romantics are disappointed, and yet, as the Eden Gardens showed, they don't count. Outside of certain pockets, people don't want to watch Test cricket. They know the scores, they follow the game on the internet, look at the television from time to time, but that's it. I am increasingly fearful that people talk about the glory of Test cricket like they do about world peace and Mother Teresa: because it is a nice thing to be heard saying.

There are still a few marquee series left but those are too few. If half the Test-playing world doesn't interest audiences, there is a problem and it has to be addressed by looking it in the eye rather than through the romantic, wistful writing that all of us have indulged in at one time or another. Maybe Test cricket ought to be played by fewer teams; maybe, as has been suggested by some former Australian cricketers, you play less, but better, Test cricket; or maybe you seek to market it more humbly.

In India, maybe we could start by making the act of going to a cricket ground pleasant. Security is something we cannot wish away. It is a grim fact of life in our part of the world, where distributing hatred doesn't seem too difficult, but maybe we can make everything else easier. Like buying tickets, getting parking, organising public transport, providing decently priced food, and the most difficult, providing clean seats to sit on. Test cricket is in a buyer's market and the sellers are struggling to come to terms with that.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • inefekt on November 21, 2011, 0:32 GMT

    I agree with MrPud, attendances in Australia, England and most of the other test playing nations are still as strong as ever. Yesterday's attendance at the Wanderer's in the test between Aust and SAF was quite good (contrary to what jonesy2 said below). Tests in England regularly draw full houses while in Aust you see the full house sign up quite often, especially when the better teams tour. You will see day 1 crowds at grounds like Sydney and Melbourne (with its traditional Boxing Day start) around 40k and 70k respectively. It's just India, whose administration is almost deliberately trying to kill off the format in favour of the money making T20 format. It's a crime which India should be ashamed of.

  • dummy4fb on November 20, 2011, 16:01 GMT

    Test cricket is always riveting to watch...be it Aus-Ind in 2001 or 2005 ashes or the aus-sa tour...however the good or great are too few in numbers and in the meantime the quality is not half as good...which paves way for T20 leagues like IPL,Big Bash and all others... It should be of made mandatory that the top teams like australia,india,South africa and Sri lanka should play each other one a year and the boards should go all out to make it a success.If they can spend so much money on IPL,create a hoopla for all that,whats the harm in doing the same for tests...Plus with the 5 days you could try a different thing each day....

  • jay57870 on November 20, 2011, 15:32 GMT

    (Cont) This evolution is spurred by forces of innovation (limited overs) & entrepreneurship (IPL). Economists call it "creative destruction." We've seen it happen in the music industry: from the phonograph to 8-track tapes to cassettes to CDs to MP3 & iTunes & so on. We've seen similar upheavals in the auto & computer/IT industries. Changes can benefit both innovators & consumers. The Indian consumer has evolved too: more discerning about choices, more demanding & less patient (no more 7-year waits for the Ambassador). Supply now exceeds demand, which calls for optimal scheduling: Less is More! Tests are no longer the only game in town. It's not just about "pleasant" cricket-ground acts (don't forget clean toilets!), but also serving & engaging the community at large! It's not just about sales promotion or marketing of a brand, but also nurturing & sustaining a national pastime & sport! If BCCI is truly "non-profit," it has a social responsibility to better serve its many stakeholders.

  • UNIVERSAL_CRICKETER on November 20, 2011, 15:32 GMT

    WHO WANTS TO LEAVE HIS WORK & WATCH SO MUCH MEANINGLESS CRICKET MATCHES 24x7x365 AGAINST WEAK OPPONENTS...WHY WILL ONE LEAVE THE COMFORT OF HIS AC ROOM STOCKED WITH HOME COOKED REFRESHMENTS...CLEAN BATHROOMS...UNLIMITED REPLAYS FROM 18 CAMERAS...NO PARKING HASSLES...NO HARASSMENTS IN THE NAME OF MULTIPLE SECURITY CHECKS.... NO RESTRICTIONS ON KEEPING YOUR OWN COLD DRINKS, SNACKS, LUNCH BOX, APPETIZERS, WATER BOTTLES WITH YOU...INSTEAD OF BEING FORCED TO BUY UNHYGIENIC FOOD & PLASTICS WATER PACKETS AT EXORBITANT PRICES FROM INSANELY OVER-CROWDED WOODEN STALLS...NO FILTHY TOILETS JAM PACKED LIKE THE GENERAL COACHES OF INDIAN RAILWAYS......AT STADIUMS,THERE ARE NO ARRANGEMENTS FOR KEEPING EVEN HELMETS LET ALONE CAMERAS, BAGS ETC. ..EITHER THROW THEM OR THE TICKETS.......EARLIER IT USED TO BE A PICNIC LIKE ATMOSPHERE AT EDEN GARDEN...HOME FOODS, CAMERA, RADIO,BINOCULARS ETC. ALLOWED...NOW ITS A OVER-PRICED MULTIPLEX PROVIDING INSTANT ENTERTAINMENT IN IPL WITH OVER-PRICED FILTH AS FOOD.

  • jay57870 on November 20, 2011, 15:18 GMT

    Harsha - I remember the Garden that was Eden vividly, having watched many Test matches there to packed stands, many moons ago. Even if India lost badly to the WI powerhouses, I was there all 5 days. Back then, Test cricket was the "only game in town" (vs local club football & hockey). India was a protected economy; foreign goods & services were a rarity. No matter how shabby the conditions inside, a Test match ticket was worth the price & wait. Demand exceeded supply. Fast forward to the present: Yes, things have changed, mostly for the better. Indian cricket has reached great heights. The tables are reversed: India is dominating WI, but the stands are empty. Why? There's been a seismic shift in fortunes since the early 90s. Alongside India's economic reforms & globalization, cricket too has evolved with the power-centre shifting to India. Cricket is big business & BCCI controls the purse strings. What's more, Tests have now to compete with ODIs & T20 for time, space & resources. (TBC)

  • dummy4fb on November 20, 2011, 14:34 GMT

    I am a big fan of Test cricket and I love to watch test cricket in stadium, and even I have traveled from Pune to Bangalore just to see India vs Australia test match last year, but this was all because opponent was Australia. So,point here is that people don't turn up at stadiums is that they know its going to be one-sided affair which should not happen in test cricket. I am sure, if England, South Africa or Australia would have traveled to India, then you might not have seen empty stands at Eden Gardens !!!

  • dummy4fb on November 20, 2011, 0:55 GMT

    Ipl has changed world cricket, thus test cricket has lost its sheen and respect... If gayle or pollard would have been in the test series the crowd amount would have differ... Our top 5 batsmen are crowd pullers, and people are saying that bring the youngsters for 3rd test, although it make sense, but do u think that the attendance wud be same if either sehwag, dhoni, sachin, dravid or laxman are rested... And a point i can think also because of the inflation and rising prices, many people have stop bothering going to stadiums and spending on it coz now they enjoy the same thing in HD...

  • thewayitwass on November 19, 2011, 21:03 GMT

    the fact is Harsha, with horribly flat pitches and mediocre opponents you are not going to entice fans to come and watch. Look at the SA pitches for inspiration, watch the cricket get more interesting, and watch the masses flood in

  • dummy4fb on November 19, 2011, 20:56 GMT

    1. My view is that the Glamour, Money and short duration of the IPL has taken away the crowd from ODIs and Tests in India. Its an overdose of cricket that has killed the excitement. IPL should be shortened in terms of no. of matches played.

    2. The tickets are over priced at most venues. These should be reduced.

    3. Another important factor is the poor scheduling of test matches. If you see the 2nd test at Eden, it started on a Monday and ended on a Thursday. No how does BCCI expects crowd to turn out on weekdays. If the matches start on Thu or Friday, rest assured there would be good crowd to watch India bat on the 2nd and 3rd days which are the most exciting ones. Saturday and Sunday is off for Schools, Colleges, Corporates and even some public sector firms which would attract good crowd.

  • Tendya_fan on November 19, 2011, 19:26 GMT

    Harsha, Please do a segment on Tendulakar V/s Ponting After a long time you have a current great bowler outside of Australia. Steyn from South Africa. The way Tendulkar mitigated him in last series and the was Ponting is struggling in this tour. He has troubled all the batsman in current era including Tendulkar. But the was Ponting is struggling ( not only with runs - i understand he is in a bad patch of his ending career) with his technique. This just shows why Tendulkar is above the rest of the batsmen after bradman. He has long been shining against the best attacks with a very weak time. I hope dhoni was there when we gave Tendulkar the captaincy when he was 23 yrs old. With Dhoni's leadership and a team like today I can't even imagine how many bowlers would have Tendya nightmares in the late 1990's. Tendulkar I think is still among the top but I wish he would have got the team when he was young and aggressive. To be continued

  • No featured comments at the moment.