MCC for D/N Test, concerned over low Test attendance in India

London: Expressing serious concern over Test cricket’s dwindling profile, including in India, the Marylebone Cricket Club has called for immediate introduction of day/night matches, besides asking the Cricket Boards to guard against players turning twenty20 freelancers.

“We should not delay in presenting day-night Test cricket as an option for those Test-playing countries that are struggling to attract an audience,” John Stephenson, the MCC assistant secretary, said.

“We say this form of the game is viable now. We proved it in Abu Dhabi with the four-day game under lights. It was the perfect experiment, and demonstrated this game should go ahead now. We don’t need another 18 months of research. The world of cricket is ready. It should not wait; the time is now,” he said in a statement after a two-day meeting of the MCC World Cricket Committee at Lord’s.

The committee, which has former India captain Rahul Dravid as one of the members, discussed a research paper which showed that only 11 per cent of cricket watched in India was Test matches compared to 33 per cent six years ago.

It said Cricket Boards will have to make the five-day format more attractive with greater rewards on offer to ward off the threat of players becoming T20 freelancers.

“With T20 riches on offer, the committee feel national governing bodies should do all that they can to retain their best talent and ensure Test cricket is a financially rewarding career. There are freelance cricketers who see a profitable career in playing shorter forms of the game only; the committee wants to guard against an increase in their number.

“The committee understands that market forces will always dictate what type of cricket spectators want to watch and that you cannot force people to watch Test cricket. Cricket authorities around the world need to make a more concerted effort to attract audiences to Test cricket: a World Test Championship, played by well-rewarded cricketers - on fair pitches - at a time of the day to suit the paying public, would provide the Test game with the boost it requires.”

Dravid informed the committee that India will play an increased number of Tests in the coming months after efforts from BCCI and other cricket authorities.

“Dravid presented his thoughts after three years of the Indian Premier League to the Committee and how the IPL franchises have learned to maximise their brand, reach new markets and become profitable ventures,” the statement said.

“He was, however, concerned that parents of talented children were asking coaches to teach them Twenty20-specific skills only, as rewards of an IPL contract are immense.

“He also talked about how the IPL has changed the training and coaching methods of players, with an IPL contract being seen as a crucial target for aspiring Indian cricketers,” the statement added.

Dravid felt that, while the occasional player has emerged as a Twenty20 specialist, the best performing IPL cricketers are those with the skills to play all forms of the game and who can adapt to all match situations.

The committee said it was vital that Test match pitches offered a fair balance between bat and ball to maintain interest levels.

“MCC’s research from India, New Zealand and South Africa, published in November 2009, showed that the cricketing public in these countries wanted to watch day/night Test cricket and were strongly in favour of a World Test Championship,” the Committee said.

“Fairer pitches, such as the ones England recently encountered in South Africa - which offered bounce and some assistance to the bowlers - rather than in Bangladesh – which were low, slow and batsmen-friendly - would also help to improve the game as a spectacle.”

Former Australian captain Steve Waugh was one of the committee members advocating the pink-ball revolution.

“I think it would be great. There’s always resistance to change because it takes people out of their comfort zone, but I think back to World Series Cricket back when I was a kid. It ignited the spark among the spectators, and as players it’s exciting. Like Twenty20 cricket, it would be something new and challenging, and as a player I’d really embrace that.”