Call it oversight or lack of planning by the Indian cricket board, or its hands were tied by its rotation policy, one would have expected the significant milestone of India’s 500th Test to be reached in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai or Delhi rather than Kanpur’s Green Park, where the first Test against New Zealand starts on September 22. A bigger opposition too would have been appropriate.
Eden Gardens, India’s biggest venue for the cricket world, will host the second Test, though that too would be a milestone moment, marking the 250th match on Indian soil.
India played their first Test at Lord’s, but many would be surprised to find the first game at home, and their second overall, was held at Mumbai’s Gymkhana Ground, in December, 1933. India lost to England by nine wickets in the only Test to be hosted in that venue.
While it has taken 84 years for India to reach this milestone, few would bet on the next 500. Test cricket is in turbulence, and the format that once held a special place in the world of sport, is struggling for survival. Two-tier competition, pink ball and four-day matches are all in the mix, but it appears a losing battle as of now.
It was reverence for tradition that encouraged Indians to embrace Test cricket, as a sport than the commercial behemoth it became decades on. India were still 14 years from freedom. MJ Gopalan, the Chennai pace stalwart and double international, chose the 1936 Test tour of England over a spot in the hockey squad for the Berlin Olympics, though he was assured of gold.
Decades later, Gopalan disclosed in an interview that he went by the advise of his British boss at the Chennai company he worked that England would provide valuable experience. Though he never got to play a Test on the tour, Gopalan said he had no regrets.
Though Kanpur has not grown as a venue like the major metros, it is special for Indian cricket. Off-spinner Jasu Patel’s first innings 9/69 in a 14-wicket match haul against Richie Benaud’s Australia remained India’s best Test bowling figures for 40 years till Anil Kumble’s feat of 10/74 against Pakistan in Delhi in 1999.
Green Park where the wristy Gundappa Viswanath made his debut with a century and Mohammad Azharuddin became the only batsman in Test history to score three centuries in his first three matches.
India can look back with pride at the Gavaskar and Kapil Dev era, the golden age of batting led by Sachin Tendulkar, and VVS Laxman’s iconic 281 against Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001.
Virat Kohli carries the baton in a season packed with 13 home Tests. A strong finish will infuse credibility in Test cricket and dictate the journey ahead.