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Kamran Abbasi

Make Pakistan's home Tests day-night affairs

Instead of having their exiled team play in empty, echoing stadiums, the PCB must look to innovate in the UAE

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi
Administrators cannot expect Test cricket to survive if they don't make efforts to make it more spectator-friendly  •  Getty Images

Administrators cannot expect Test cricket to survive if they don't make efforts to make it more spectator-friendly  •  Getty Images

Bad light, in part, robbed England of a win in Abu Dhabi. Bad light and slow scoring, for which they will kick themselves; bad light and slow over rates, a curse of all nations.
When England began their second innings, a thrilling finish seemed destined to end in defeat for the hosts. Pakistan did just enough, relying on the iron laws of nature above the soft disciplines of their batting. All this drama played out in a near-empty stadium echoing with catcalls and solitary chants.
England were the better side here, on a track that was dead for too long. Misbah-ul-Haq was rightly displeased with it. He wanted a turner, to catch England's novices cold. Pitches in the UAE belie appearances and tend to be result-oriented. Draws are uncommon. Hence the surprise at how long this one took to offer inspiration to bowlers. Any groundsman can get it wrong, and to Pakistan's discomfort, England are now perfectly warmed up for the remaining Tests.
But England's confidence will not be absolute. They are yet to be tested by Pakistan's best spinner on a helpful track, and that confrontation is pivotal to the outcome of this series. Adil Rashid's success indicates the high threat Yasir Shah will pose. Pakistan can strengthen in batting, too, when Azhar Ali returns, although there is a sense of unease that their top order now houses both Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.
Abu Dhabi provided many high points. Double-hundreds for Malik and Alastair Cook. A ton for Asad Shafiq. Rashid's final-day bowling. Wahab Riaz conjuring high pace and reverse swing. But the most significant was Younis Khan's ungainly six to reach the top of Pakistan's list of Test run scorers.
Younis' progress to the record has not been serene. He has battled authority and poor form. He has overcome personal tragedy. He has stubbornly stuck to his principles and method. He has relaxed by fishing. He now stands above Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq in a victory for his supreme temperament and high class, although ironically he only hinted at those attributes in this Test.
It is not a problem of exile. Blanket television coverage, poor facilities, dead wickets, and the burdens of life ruined Test cricket as a spectator sport long before Pakistan's move to the UAE
Yet those special moments were played to an empty gallery. A barren crowd witnessed Younis break Javed's great record. An epic fail for cricket, but did anybody in the PCB or the ICC care? The players deserve better. A major international sport deserves better. Elite sport is diminished by a hollow atmosphere. In their short-sighted rush to bank television revenues, cricket administrators miss the obvious point that a spectator sport played without spectators creates a dull spectacle. In the long term, television companies, advertisers and viewers will all look elsewhere, the revenues will dry up, and cricket, at least its highest form, will be dead.
Cricket fights the elements, against rain and dark. No other major sport is so severely challenged. Cricket fights economics, against the tyranny of working hours and school days, for five days at a time. Clearly, Test cricket is impractical, incompatible with the demands of the real world, except in advanced economies like England and Australia, where leisure and recreation are highly valued.
Money, thrills and convenience create the quick fix of limited-overs cricket. For these reasons, many administrators might happily wish Test cricket's death. Yet the pull of Test cricket is clear. It was self-evident on that final day in Abu Dhabi. Limited-overs cricket is unable to deliver such drama, to examine a cricketer's mettle so sternly, to captivate an audience as intently. Test cricket survives for these very reasons. It is deeply loved by too many of a certain generation, a generation that remains influential.
But what of the future? The next generations brought up on a sport of empty stadiums and no atmosphere? That's why administrators must act now to preserve the survival of Test cricket.
This is not a new challenge. Poor attendance has blighted Test cricket for over a decade, since the rise of television coverage, even spreading to India and the West Indies, where full houses were once guaranteed.
The PCB is as guilty as any cricket board of ignoring poor attendances for Test cricket. It is not a problem of exile. Blanket television coverage, poor facilities, dead wickets, and the burdens of life ruined Test cricket as a spectator sport long before Pakistan's move to the UAE. Exile is an excuse, a convenient lie.
The stadiums in the UAE are impressive, albeit illogically situated. The pitches aren't as dead as their reputation suggests, although livelier surfaces will help. The burdens of life remain, the tyranny of working hours and school days. The battle against the elements is a constant, the iron laws of nature remain iron laws.
There is only one route to secure the future of Test cricket, if you accept the argument that no spectators at the ground will ultimately mean no viewers on television, the death of revenue. Day-night cricket must become commonplace in the Test game. The success of limited-overs cricket is largely based on its convenience for busy spectators. Day-night cricket panders to that convenience economy.
By contrast, Test cricket in the dead atmospheres of Pakistan and UAE fails players and viewers. An urgent reform is required. The UAE is ideal to establish Test cricket as a day-night sport, with its early nightfall and minimal evening dew. The PCB is known for embracing innovation in cricket. With the support of the ICC, it needs to make amends for years of neglect.
Pakistan should become the first nation to embrace day-night cricket for all home Tests. No major record must be broken again in the silence of an empty stadium. When Younis Khan reaches 10,000 Test runs in a home Test, it must be to the rapturous applause his historic achievement deserves.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. @KamranAbbasi