Critics of rank turners notwithstanding — and to be fair, the pitch at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium is just that — the India vs South Africa Test match at Mohali is a highly exciting one.
Twenty-two wickets have fallen over two days and there will be plenty more today, unless both sides come up with something incredible on a dusty surface. To some, this is the kind of Test cricket that will attract huge crowds. But where are the crowds? Test matches at Mohali have never enjoyed massive turn-outs, but low turn-outs have afflicted other venues in India as well. Unless host associations and the BCCI come up with a good effort to attract crowds, Test cricket will still be played in front of empty stands.
In England and Australia, fans are encouraged to assemble at a fan zone where they can watch the action on a giant screen and mingle with each other. At lunch and tea intervals, the public are treated to old footage of matches and Australian cricket administrators allow kids to play soft-ball cricket on the outfield. In England, sponsors invite former cricketers to interact with spectators, who are happy to go down memory lane with them.
With so much corporate muscle in Indian cricket, administrators will do well to organise contests for the public and it may be a good idea to conduct these activities only at Test matches. In any case, there is no shortage of spectators for limited overs games and they’d be better off watching every ball of the action.
There is no quick fix to the problem of low spectator turn-out for Test matches. The czars of Indian cricket and marketing gurus must put their heads together to make the premier format of the game more attractive.
On November 27, Australia will host the first day-night Test at the Adelaide Oval against the touring New Zealanders. The game will be played with a pink ball, which some players have reservations about. But, at least an attempt has been made to make Test cricket more appealing.
Test cricket as a spectator sport is on its deathbed, and an injection is needed, albeit in experimentation.