After 47 minutes of agricultural cricket on the third day, Bangladesh’s race was run. They lost the pink-ball Test at Eden Gardens by an innings and 46 runs to concede the series 2-0. Mahmudullah didn’t take chances with his hamstring, so the visitors were a batsman short. The Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) is around the corner.
The visitors looked inept as a Test side. In Indore, they had lost in three-and-a-half days. In Kolkata, the game was done and dusted in a little over six sessions. The tourists batted for 71.4 overs both innings. The Indian fast bowlers, who accounted for all 19 Bangladesh wickets in the match, had a few opposition batsmen virtually running for cover.
Test cricket separates the men from the boys. Bangladesh, enamoured with white-ball cricket – read T20 – were found badly wanting. The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) has 18 players under its central contract, divided into four categories. Players in the top category get BDT 4 lakh each annually followed by BDT 3 lakh, 2.5 lakh and 1.5 lakh for the next three categories. BDT 4 lakh is equivalent to Rs 3.38 lakh (approx) in Indian currency. Compared to this, the 2019 BPL draft divided players into six categories, with a minimum salary of BDT 5 lakh (Rs 4.23 lakh approx) for a player in the lowest rung and BDT 50 lakh (Rs 42.3 lakh approx) per cricketer in the elite A+ category. Little wonder then that the majority of Bangladesh cricketers’ mental make-up is short form-oriented. Given the disparity in remuneration, seven hours of hard labour everyday for five days is not value for money.
“I don't know the issues in Bangladesh around Test cricket. Eventually, strength of Test cricket should come from financial structure. If you don’t keep Test cricketers in good financial condition, their motivation keeps going down. If a player playing for 20 overs and bowling just four overs is earning 10 times more than you, then eventually you will not see the logic (of playing Test cricket) after five years and will want to only play T20s,” Virat Kohli said after the match.
Bangladesh aren’t a case in isolation. West Indies, South Africa, Sri Lanka and, to some extent, Pakistan also have been facing this problem – their players giving franchise-based T20 leagues greater importance. In a pool of 12, Test cricket is strong only in four countries – India, England, Australia and New Zealand.
India’s Test series win over Bangladesh saw them reach 360 points after three series – all clean sweeps – in the World Test Championship. Australia are a distant second with 116 points followed by New Zealand and Sri Lanka on 60 points each. Kohli and company have all but booked their place in the 2021 final at Lord's.
Even on the third day, Eden had a turnout of over 15,000. India’s first pink-ball Test was a massive hit among the fans. Turnouts on the first two days were 60,000 and 50,000 respectively. Stadium attendance-wise, this was unthinkable for a Test match in India. The novelty of a pink-ball, day-night Test brought the crowds in droves. But when the novelty is gone, fans will crave competition. Even for pink-ball Test cricket to be the way forward, competition is essential. Test cricket thrives on it as was the case during the Ashes earlier this year. At the moment though, competition is restricted between the top three or four teams.
Maybe, two divisions, with promotion and relegation, from the next World Test Championship cycle can make matters more competitive. Kohli, however, has a different suggestion. “A more balanced format would be one series home, one away. As I said, we are playing very good cricket but we played only two Tests away in the Test Championship. We saw the level of cricket in the Ashes. Pakistan’s playing in Australia (at the moment)... It’s very difficult to judge a team. You can praise our team on our performance yes, but to say we are dominating like no other team is a very subjective thing to think of. If four series were two home, two away and we had 300 points, then you can say we are playing really well. We are playing good cricket but there shouldn’t be tags attached to any team,” said the India captain.
Wanted: Aggressive marketing
Kohli hit the nail on its head when he called for more aggressive marketing of Test cricket from all stakeholders, including host broadcasters. “I think it’s very crucial to market Test cricket like we do in T20s. It’s not only the job of the players but spreads out to the management and cricket board. Home broadcasters as well; how you portray a particular product to the people as well. If you create excitement only around T20 and not Test cricket, then psyche of fans – there’s already a certain template that is established. If there’s enough buzz created around Test cricket, then there will be a lot more keenness to come to stadiums.
“I’m a big fan of having more interactive areas for people during the games like you have when you play abroad. Maybe, schoolchildren could interact with Team India players during lunch, be on the field, play with them like we see in other countries as well. All these things will bring strength into Test cricket and people will want to come and have an experience. There has to be more for fans.”
Back to the second Test, and Mushfiqur Rahim top-scored for Bangladesh with 74 in their second innings. Umesh Yadav returned with 5/53 to put his name on the Eden honours board. Ishant Sharma was the Man-of-the-Match for his nine-wicket game haul. He was also the Man-of-the-Series after 12 wickets from two Tests at an average of 10.75. Ishant, Umesh and Mohammed Shami bowled 145.1 overs between them and shared 33 scalps in the series. Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja combined 54.2 overs in two Tests and all five wickets for the spinners went to Ashwin. The pace-age of Indian cricket is well and truly at its peak.