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Slowdown concerns: Time for ringing in changes

Dwindling eyeballs and declining footfalls in stadiums, coupled with harsher economic realities, have put Indian cricket's commercial might under strain.

india Updated: Dec 30, 2011 00:13 IST
Subhash Rajta
Subhash Rajta
Hindustan Times

Dwindling eyeballs and declining footfalls in stadiums, coupled with harsher economic realities, have put Indian cricket's commercial might under strain.

Already, sport is globally scrambling to reinvent itself to suit changing times. In cricket, that has meant frequent tweaking of One-day rules, making technological innovations and a proposal to introduce day-night Tests with pink balls.

Despite over 70,000 spectators turning up on the opening day of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, it is the longest format that is under maximum pressure, especially in India.

While the proposed ideas - which may or may not restore the popularity of the Tests - may take a while to take shape, the powers-that-be of Indian cricket could take some practical steps besides figuring out the economics in the changing scenario.

Fix the pitch
"At 80 years of age, the Eden Gardens curator has got more life than this pitch." The hilarious but profound comment from former West Indies wicketkeeper, Jeff Dujon, while doing commentary in the India-West Indies Test in Kolkata last month aptly summed up what's wrong with Indian wickets. It's the strip in the middle that largely determines the quality of play, but India has often failed to pitch it right.

What's hurting the game is the lop-sided contest the dead and flat, or under-prepared, tracks produce. A quality batsman struggling on quick and bouncy tracks makes for a much better sight than an average player stacking up centuries on lifeless tracks. No wonder, there are many who wake up early to catch the action Down Under but are disinterested when India play at home.

The good news is that good wickets could be prepared, irrespective of the weather conditions. "Most of our curators don't know enough about wicket preparation. They work mostly through trial and error and that is why many a time the wicket is not up to the desired level," says PR Vishwanathan, a senior curator.

"The way forward is to start certification courses for curators, like it is done for coaches and umpires," says Daljit Singh, former chairman of the BCCI's grounds and pitches committee. Australia have spiced up pitches in the last couple of seasons to infuse more life into matches and allow the bowlers to play a bigger role, and that was reflected in both the Hobart Test against New Zealand and at the MCG.

Schedule it right
The Boxing Day Test is the prime example of good scheduling. The traditional event is looked forward to with great enthusiasm. Back home, proper scheduling is almost non-existent. Not too long ago, India playing Sri Lanka had become a routine affair and recently the return series of England and the West Indies had little buzz around it.

"The round-the-year haphazard schedule is doing no good to anyone. The overkill causes viewer fatigue, players get worn out and pick up injuries, top players start missing some contests which further hits the interest levels, and the resultant low TRPs put the broadcaster under strain," a broadcaster bemoans.

Get tech-savvy
On Wednesday morning, when Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma ran through the Australian top order, spectators missed out on something rare from Indian bowlers. Both were bowling at sharp pace and Ishant even breached the 150kph mark. As the speeds were not being displayed on TV, the viewers had to take the commentators' word for it.

On the other hand, Australian spectators could follow the speeds at which the two were bowling and also had the luxury of finding out if the umpires were making the correct decisions, all this thanks to the home channel using the DRS mechanism for their viewers, although it was not being used in the series due to India's veto.

"Technology is the way forward. It not only helps in decision making but also enriches the viewer's experience and adds to interest," says a broadcaster.

Four-day Tests
It was almost a decade ago that Steve Waugh suggested that Tests should be crunched by a day. Although Australia were then winning Tests in three days, his recommendation was futuristic. But it was brushed aside by cricket administrators who felt there was no need to tinker with the five-day format.

What seemed a mere concept then may have to become a reality to bring more fans into the stadiums. In an age of instant results, due to the proliferation of Twenty20 leagues modelled on the IPL, people seem to have less patience, time and money to wait for a result.

First Published: Dec 30, 2011 00:11 IST