You will never see Eden Gardens packed to the rafters again for a Test match.
There, I said it.
The purists may fume, and the experts may fulminate, but I believe Test cricket is ready to go the way of the Premier Padmini, the record player and the Bajaj Chetak. Everything that is iconic has a time, an era. After watching the frenetic energy, the raucous fans, the heady mix of modern glamour and cricket and the sheer number of T20 games this year, I am convinced that the era of Test cricket is nearly done.
The end will not come suddenly. Test cricket will slowly fade into the night.
Let me confess that I am no longer a Test match fan. The last time I saw a Test match live was, er, in 1977 in Bangalore, when Tony Greig’s Britons had a whale of a time in pre-Emergency India (they beat us 3-1).
I can still hear the roar from the stands of the Chinnaswamy stadium when Chandrashekhar’s withered arm whipped the ball across at almost medium pace; I remember Bishan Singh Bedi’s languid approach to the wicket, threading his way through the umpire and the stumps — an approach I imitated for years, even when bowling to my brother with a sock-stuffed ball long after Bedi had retired.
Today, when I am outside the Chinnaswamy, stuck in one of Bangalore’s interminable traffic jams, under the stately gulmohars that line the road outside, I hear that roar in the stands of my mind.
You could once hear that roar up to 2 km away from the Chinnaswamy. It’s becoming hard to hear every passing year, as it is at every cricket stadium across the world. In 2004, 51 Test matches were played worldwide. In 2005, 49. In 2006, 46. In 2007, 31. In 2008, 47. In 2009, 17.
Yes, I can see the spike in 2008. But it’s just that, a brave spike in the declining career graph of cricket.
I know the arguments. That the numbers are a coincidence. That Test cricket schedules are not determined by the back-to-back T20 jousts we’ve been watching. That Test cricket is Test cricket and nothing will change that — except the empty stands, fading television audiences, and memories of its glory days.
The cricket writer Mike Marqusee once said that cricket sometimes acts on him the way the tea-cake called a madeleine acted on Marcel Proust, triggering a hidden chain of association, an entryway to what the French novelist called ‘a vast structure of recollection’.
I maintain my collection of recollections well. I remember 1983 and the great rain tree under which I tried every day to wind myself up like my hero of that moment, Malcolm Marshall. I remember cycling to college with my heart in my mouth and transistor tied to the handlebar, feeling the silence in Kanpur’s stadium when Marshall knocked the bat out of a stunned Sunil Gavaskar’s hand. It was one of the most fiery spells of fast bowling the world has seen: 8-5-9-4; Gavaskar, Gaekwad, Amarnath and Vengsarkar gone (Marshall ended with 8-66 off 32 overs).
I may have stayed away from cricket stadia, but as you can tell, I was indeed a fan of Test cricket. It does not interest me anymore. The characters are gone. The bare heads (damn those helmets) are gone. The barrage of bouncers is gone. The roar is gone. The time I had to spend on Test cricket is gone.
The era is gone.
Really, think about it. Take this little quiz:
When did you last take a train-ride for the sheer pleasure of the journey?
(I can’t remember: maybe the Delhi-Kathgodam Ranikhet Express more than six years ago.)
When did you last lie on the grass and stare at the clouds for half a winter’s day?
(This I did four months ago, but I could manage only two days in four months; once, I did every week)
When did you last spend a day at home watching movies back to back?
(I can’t remember; I’ve seen only one movie at a cinema these last three months.)
Test cricket flourished at a time when India, even if it wasn’t really a kinder, gentler place, at least moved at a kinder, gentler pace. There was time to play cricket under the rain tree, time for long drives, time to gaze at the rain, time to watch a Test match.
The world changed before we realised it. The world became flatter, and we started living 24/7/365. Just when we thought we had prospered enough to enjoy the fruits of our labour came the downturn. Now, we must work harder still, our fate sealed by the SMS, BlackBerry and that tiresome thing called Twitter.
Everything that isn’t now just isn’t good enough. Everything that isn’t now will pass quietly into that night — if not tonight, tomorrow.
So, mourn Test cricket, if you must. One day when we wake up, it will be gone.