Maybe this is what hyperventilating commentators mean when they say, "It doesn't get any bigger than this!"
The BCCI has unveiled the opposition and venues for its 2016-17 home season more than three months in advance. And told us India are to play 13 home Tests over seven months, the most crowded season in 37 years. With it came the news that there is to be a five-Test series at home for the first time in two decades. The last time those two happenings happened, I was in middle school and then in junior college. Eons ago.
These are landmark announcements by the BCCI: a calendar filled with so much Test-match love, it could be considered antiquarian, and the announcement made so far in advance of the season that the work of good-natured impostors could be suspected. Usually India's fixtures are capsules of mystery and suspense, released not long before the visitors pass through immigration at an unspecified Indian airport.
Yes, but what are the specific dates of the series? Where do fans buy tickets? Does the BCCI care about the fans? Patience, people.
It is being said that the complete itineraries will be released within two weeks. In the face of such abundant pre-season information, let's be charitable and give the BCCI four. It will still leave well over a month to spare before the first match against New Zealand. It may be too much to hope that the eternal shenanigans to do with ticketing will also be sorted out by then, but there is already much to look forward to.
The country that gave cricket its ultimate T20 pyjama party in the IPL is going to stage the biggest home season in 37 years. The mind boggles.
The 13 Tests against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia are also meant to be the first step in the entrenchment of a clear, regular Indian home season - with Test cricket at its core. Until now, India's home Test calendar has been, at best, capricious. It has oscillated between a moderate diet and scarcity.
Since September 2005, India have had 46 home Tests; the 2012-13 season had eight home Tests, the next one had two, and 2014-15 had none. The 13 scheduled for 2016-17 is only one fewer than the total of the previous four home seasons put together. This lopsidedness has led to colourful diversionary stats: India have played only four Tests at home since the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar. (Yes, the nation wept, but still…)
The BCCI's home season has, for the second time, been named 'India Cricket', a branding exercise first undertaken in October 2015. "Every country has focused on its domestic season," Anurag Thakur, then the BCCI secretary, said to Hindustan Times. "We all get to know when England and Australia play the Ashes or New Zealand travel to Australia. India is the powerhouse of world cricket, but our season does not have such status. The 'India Cricket' campaign is to promote the start of the season, both domestic and international, in India." The first sighting of this new brand was when the words 'India Cricket', all in capitals, and not the BCCI logo, were spotted on commentators' shirts. The 2015-16 season of India Cricket offered only four Tests, though.
It is reasonable to assume that this 13-Test season is not expected to be a rigid template for the future but a rough guide. It indicates that the BCCI is going to hunker down on a certain number of months for cricket at home. Maybe around the Diwali festival, much like South Africa's and Australia's home seasons are centred around Christmas and the New Year. Every summer, England unfailingly play seven home Tests and Australia around six. For India, eight home Tests a season seems a manageable number.
This does not mean that India will never play a Boxing Day Test in Melbourne or a New Year's Test in Cape Town. They often return from their southern hemisphere tours in January and can host home series in February and March. The Season of Plenty could just ensure that India's touring itineraries will be arranged around their home season in the future, and not the other way around.
The 2016-17 season - with its emphasis on Tests (13) as opposed to limited-overs fixtures (eight ODIs and three T20Is) - was arrived at by the BCCI's tour and fixtures committee after examining operational issues at three ends: first the curators, for a best assessment of ground conditions at the many international venues; then the broadcasters, for logistical convenience of moving equipment from one venue to the next; and finally the three rotation ladders for venue allocation for Tests, ODIs and T20Is. India's climate allows for cricket in different parts of the country between September and March - the IPL occupies the previously unused summer months - and world-class grounds at various venues have empowered the BCCI to take advantage of such a large window.
Two questions remain. What of the day-night Test? And when exactly will Bangladesh finally play a Test in India, more than 15 years after their debut in the format? The Hyderabad fixture against Bangladesh is expected to take place after England leave and before Australia arrive; the BCCI's hospitality somewhat limited despite Bangladesh's long wait but fortunately no more delayed.
The day-night Test is not a given as yet. It will depend on how the pink ball behaves during the remodelled Duleep Trophy in September, when India's Test batsmen are expected to participate in six first-class matches under lights. They will provide feedback on the pink ball and the dew factor, and only then will a decision be taken on the possibility of a day-night Test.
The coming season will be an adventure and an experiment for cricket in India. The crowd response at six new Test venues - against first-rate opposition - will tell us whether it is feasible to take the longest format of the game to new places, or whether it is best played at traditional centres. We will also know if the focus on Tests will translate into better financial remuneration for long-form players, as has been promised.
This new season gives the Indian fan much to savour. And if the fans in the stands finally get their due, in terms of the ease of buying tickets and in-stadium comforts over long and warm days, the BCCI will have earned itself a mighty standing ovation.