Very few who watched the events of Eden Gardens that wonderful March of 2001 would have forgotten the emotional high of those days, when Rahul Dravid and V.V.S.Laxman made Australia look vulnerable, or, a few days later, when a young, testosterone-filled Harbhajan Singh stormed Chepauk.
The games were scrappy, tense, theatrical and symbolised what Test cricket so often is: a highly skilled, intense drama that leaves you breathless and wanting more.
It’s something even Set Max, who telecast the IPL, are very excited about. Sneha Rajani, Max’s business head, says that while the shorter versions of the game are lucrative, they were “blown away” by the average Television Viewership Rating (TVR) of 1.2-2 for the India vs New Zealand Test series, “given the 3 am start and the eight hour game. A high profile team would rate much higher.” Just as an indicator, Max’s serials have a viewership rating between 0.5-3.
When India travelled to Australia in 2007-08, ESPN-Star averaged 3.12 for the series. The fourth Test rated 4.24, with a high of 7.96 for the finals. That, incidentally, was higher than the average of this year’s IPL (4.2 all India), with the finals having a TVR of 9.3, lower than last year’s 9.8.
Still, while I believe that there is a future for Test cricket, it will have to evolve into something dramatically different. Already, pressure from the shorter formats has resulted in Tests becoming more result oriented. The International Cricket Council is also making changes. Featherbed pitches will be weeded out and day-night Tests might be around the corner.
I think Test cricket is going to be the numero uno Internet sport of the future. Think about it — most people don’t have time to spend five days at the ground anymore, nor spare eight hours a day over five days on the telly. So what do they do? They follow the matches at work, keeping live scorecards on and alt-tabbing between windows ever so often.
The target viewer group — males, 18-35 — follow Test cricket this way. For instance, Cricinfo, the world’s most popular cricket website, recorded its biggest day ever both in India (687,666 unique users) and globally (1,798,702 unique users) on November 10, 2008, the final day of the India vs Australia Test in Nagpur.
This March was their biggest ever month, with 13.7 million unique users. While it included one day internationals, this, they say, was driven by almost all the Test playing nations playing almost simultaneously across the globe. In April, though, the numbers dipped to 12.5 million, which dipped further in May (peak IPL time) to 11.7 million.
However, there is no doubt that glitzy, bang-bang T20 cricket has reached out to new audiences and is, therefore, the big commercial driver of the future. So the future of Tests also depends on how it is handled commercially by cricket’s administrators. Yet, there is space for it, just like there is space for both a Singh is Kinng and a Pyaasa.
At least, there’s space for it all for me. In a few years, I’ll take my daughter to watch cricket. She’ll probably enjoy T20 games, as I do — they are fun. But the memories I pass on to her and the stories I hope she will remember, will be of Test matches and the odd one-dayer. And in time, I am sure she will make memories of her own to add to our special family album.