For the last 140 years, Test cricket has been the ultimate test for the sport’s practitioners.
India and Bangladesh are preparing for their first-ever Test matches under the lights. A lot of festivities have been arranged to mark this auspicious day. Kolkata's historic Eden Gardens will host the Test match in front of dignitaries from both the countries. A Test under lights, with a pink ball, is a new concept. It is still in its infancy considering the history of Test matches.
Test cricket is old. It is so old that it came before the first automobile and the first aircraft The first official Test match commenced on March 15, 1877, between Australia and England. Since then it has been the elite competition of the sport.
For the last 140 years, Test cricket has been the ultimate test for sport's practitioners. It was the only international format of the game until 1971 when the first One Day International (ODI) was played. Then in 2005 came the T20s. But Test cricket has remained on the throne with all its pomp and authority.
But while the other two formats were growing in popularity, the Test match was losing its appeal in spite of its intensity and a higher level of competitiveness. Audiences were 'bored' by a game stretching over five days. The numbers in the crowd dropped drastically, and Test matches increasingly were being played in empty stadiums.
Also, the International Cricket Council's (ICC) attempt to make cricket into a global game did not help Test cricket either. The ICC chose the T20 format to increase cricket's appeal all over the globe, as it was quick, short, exciting and, most importantly, drawing TV viewers.
As TV ratings went higher for the newly formed T20 leagues all over the cricketing world, Test matches became harder to sell as a commodity. ICC was in doubt whether the game's elite version could survive the onslaught from its modern and well-commercialised counterpart.
Finally, in October 2012, ICC took a radical decision to play Test matches under lights, thus giving it the same primetime TV audiences, which were, until then, exclusive to T20s and ODIs.
A usual day-night Test match starts at anywhere between 12 noon and 2 pm, and ends around at 8.30 in the evening. A late finish assures primetime TV slots.
The ICC's experiment paid off. The first day-night Test match was played in 2015 between Australia and New Zealand. It grabbed the imagination of fans from the start. A pink ball under the lights gave the fans something different to chew on.
In the last four seasons, 10 more Test matches were played under the lights with pink balls. Most of them were crowd pullers. Australia are the most successful team with 5 out of 5 wins. The most successful batsman under the lights has been Pakistan's Azhar Ali, who played 3 matches and scored 456 runs. Australia's Mitchell Starc is the most successful bowler with 26 wickets in 5 matches.
From 2015 till now, eight out of 12 Test-playing nations have appeared in a day-night Tests. Only India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Ireland have missed out. But now, ICC's biggest market in India will get an opportunity to experience the game live under floodlights. Bangladesh will lock horns against India at Eden, in both the team's first-ever day-nighter.
The Eden Test starts on November 22, and expectations are already sky-high. Tickets for the first three days of the match have already been sold out. Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina and the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee will ring the inauguration bell for the match. The Cricket Association of Bengal has planned gimmicks like introducing a match mascot and arranging paratroopers to come down from a chopper to hand over the match ball to the two captains. A large number of Bangladeshi fans will fly to Kolkata to witness the historic event.
All the prep and hype over the match has already proven ICC's point. The Test match needs to adapt and re-introduce itself if it wants to survive. A capacity crowd at Eden can only carry the format forward. The ICC and the cricketing fraternity will be hoping for just that.