The first-ever Test match played in India (against England) was at the Bombay Gymkhana grounds adjoining Azad Maidan in December 1933. And now India is playing its 500th Test match, against New Zealand, in Kanpur.
With no offence to Kanpur’s Green Park – which for many years had been one of the main centres for the sport in India -- I wish the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had brought this 500th Test match to Mumbai instead.
Given the extended monsoon and the current wet spell, most will say it is just as well that the match was scheduled elsewhere.
But that is not the crux of my plaint; rather the fact that Mumbai, which had the strongest claims, was bypassed in the original itinerary itself.
At one level, with some justification, this may be seen as churlish. Such landmarks can get cumbersome to accommodate. Should the 100th, 200th etc matches also be assigned to Mumbai?
Obviously not. I am being partisan, no doubt, but not to contrive a situation for the heck of it. Rather, at enhancing an occasion that has will-nilly arisen, and how it could have possibly helped in the survival and/or growth of the sport.The 500th Test is not just a significant milestone. It has come with Test cricket at the crossroads. This is a vexing time for the longest format, and what happens in the next couple of years could determine the direction the sport will take.
My case is that Test cricket needs major fillip to survive. Every occasion and opportunity that can provide this should be maximized. And if India, as the most powerful country in the sport, can be in the vanguard, it would help immeasurably.
To me, the BCCI has been short-sighted not to exploit such circumstances when they arise. Given the rich tradition and legacy of Bombay cricket, there was far greater scope to ramp up the 500th Test and capture the imagination of not just fans in India, but all over the world.
Sadly, this has been lost. I felt similar pangs during the 2011 World Cup when the Eden Gardens had to be scrapped as the venue of the match between India and England. Why? Because the stadium reconstruction was not completed in time!
The East India Company had its origins in Kolkata, and here was an India-England World Cup match. What better occasion to mesh the past with the present and come up with a fantastic backdrop to the contest?
The problem is not so much lack of impresarios to capture such moments, but a poor sense of history. This is true of our national life and inevitably spills over into cricket too.
The BCCI unfortunately seems averse to its own history and to the rich and varied heritage of the game in India. The importance of an occasion these days -- for fans, administrators and I dare say the media too -- seems engulfed by a Bollywood-influenced hoopla during IPL matches.
The T20 format is hugely enjoyable the IPL has been a terrific tournament. It provides great entertainment to fans, livelihood to players and fills the BCCI’s coffers. But while all this has its place, we need to be more aware and more respectful of the game’s original format: still the most nuanced, most challenging and still the most coveted by players.
Where the 500th Test is concerned, what surprises and disappoints me even more is that neither the Mumbai Cricket Association, nor several marquee cricket names thought it fit to lobby aggressively for the city to play host.
How the BCCI’s fixtures committee determines venues follows a logic and process dynamic that is established and usually very fair. But sometimes circumstances demand a change in pattern which can be effected by a strong pressure group.
Imagine if Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Tendulkar and Shastri had argued for this match to be played in Mumbai in deference to the city’s great contribution and legacy to the sport in India? Who would have had the temerity to refuse them?