BCCI power struggle puts day-night Test plans on hold

The Wankhede Stadium under lights AFP

The BCCI's plans to stage India's first-ever day-night Test in October is mired in a power struggle between the two power centres that currently run the board. A sharply worded mail from Vinod Rai, chief of the Committee of Administrators, to Amitabh Choudhury, the board's acting secretary, placed the proposal on hold and criticised what Rai called the "cavalier way of taking policy decisions".

In his mail, Rai said that discussions on the issue needed to go beyond India coach Ravi Shastri, who had been consulted, and should include the players, the administration and the fans, "your greatest stakeholder". It laid down several conditions that needed to be met before the plan could be discussed again.

India is the only major cricket-playing country to have not hosted or played a day-night Test. This, despite apparent openness to the idea from India captain Virat Kohli, who had called the inaugural day-night Test between Australia and New Zealand in 2015 a "landmark" moment. The game's administrators, including the ICC, have urged member countries to support day-night cricket as a means of boosting audience figures across the Test world.

The issue had its origins last week, when Choudhury emailed Shastri, asking for his help in "finding remedies to the ever diminishing" interest of fans in Test cricket. In his email, dated February 17, Choudhury said that even popular venues like Kolkata could not reverse the "alarmingly poor figures of attendance". He said that to counter such a challenge, the BCCI needed to apply "innovative" thinking, and the day-night Test - provided the dew factor was managed - was a "natural" option.

In his response, Shastri said that another option to attract a big audience was to play Test matches against "tier 2" opponents "like West Indies" in tier-two cities. "As far as day-night cricket goes, it can be tried out as an experiment with a game starting at 12 and where the last session is played under lights. It will be interesting to see how much part dew will play.

"Against a team like West Indies, it has to be played in a tier 2 city without a doubt. To get in the crowds it doesn't matter if it's a day game or day-night game. What's important is a tier 2 city."

Choudhury then placed Shastri's suggestions at a discussion table at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai, in a meeting with the board's management team led by Rahul Johri (the BCCI's chief executive officer) and Saba Karim (general manager, operations), and the national selectors.

The following day, February 21, Choudhury emailed details of that meeting, along with the discussions he had with Shastri, to the BCCI's two other office bearers - CK Khanna (acting president) and Anirudh Chaudhry (treasurer). "Under the circumstances, we will go ahead with the proposal [of] choosing one of the two Windies Test matches for the first ever day-night game on Indian soil," Choudhury said.

The email was forwarded to Rai, whose reply leaves the plan in limbo. Rai told Choudhury that if he felt taking the views of "four persons sitting in cricket centre [the BCCI headquarters]" constituted "all stakeholders", then it was a "very misplaced viewpoint".

According to Rai, the "greatest stakeholder" was the public, and they needed to be factored in too. "This issue is placed on hold," Rai told Choudhury in an email, copying in the rest of the board's office bearers along with Johri and Karim.

He said the idea could not be taken forward till the specifics of the proposed day-night Test were worked out, including the venue, timings, security arrangements and costs to the BCCI. He also said the visiting team would have to be consulted to "factor in their viewpoints".

"Ravi may have been consulted, but I would like to consult the players whose body clock over five consecutive days [and] will have to get accustomed to a new timing," Rai said.

Once all these things were looked into, Rai said the BCCI would put forth the view in the media for a "consultative process".

Choudhury responded to Rai on February 23, saying "the effort was only to impede the fast disappearing spectator support for Test cricket."