Test Cricket Woes: Will Kohli Play Saviour?

22 Jul,2016

picture caption: Source: Twitter/@icc

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

It’s Test Cricket season again. After what seemed like a never-ending T20 fiesta, we finally have some white uniform cricket. In an unusually-designed tour, India is visiting the West Indies to play four Tests and nothing else. No ODIs, no T20s.

 

Test cricket has been through its challenges in recent years. There is a loyal base of followers who consider it to be the most challenging and exciting format in the sport. But this loyal base is less than 10 million (1 crore) Indians in size. And the age profile of this segment is not exactly advertiser-friendly, with a large majority of these 10 million being 35+.

 

It is not very difficult to sell India cricket in any format. ‘India in West Indies playing only Test cricket’ can be the toughest proposition to sell though. There are many reasons.

 

The timings are unsustainable from a viewership perspective. 7.30pm to 2.30am is arguably worse than New Zealand Test cricket timings of 3.30-10.30am. Sleep deprivation can still be managed, but how does one get the control over the remote in the prime time of mainline GEC content that the family must watch?

 

West Indies is not the most exciting team to watch in the long format. There are very few stars on the roster, and unlike India-Australia, India-South Africa or India-England, there’s no modern history to this contest.

 

The telecast experience isn’t going to any better. The stadia are unlikely to be packed, if the first day last night was any indication. And the commentary ranges from functional to plain boring.

 

In such a scenario, there’s just one thing that would make this Test series worth considering, even for the shrinking loyal base. Virat Kohli. This is Kohli’s first Test match since the T20 World Cup and the IPL, two tournaments where his stature as a modern great was firmly established. As I watch last night’s recording while writing this, I see that Kohli has announced his presence in the series early, scoring 143 not out in two sessions, well on his way to his first double hundred in Tests, probably more.

 

How emphatically he dominates this series will decide if and how this series is remembered a few years later. Four centuries and it will be the Kohli series that will never be forgotten, especially if India win 4-0 under his leadership. But if the numbers are more modest, the series can fast lose its relevance.

 

There has been a lot of talk about day-night Test cricket, and BCCI too has been championing the idea, it seems. But the larger problem with the format is that it needs a potential 30 hours of time investment from the viewer, an unreal number in today’s time, when even a 90-minute film can bore us to death.

 

Test Cricket shall remain niche. The 10 million may go down to 5 million two decades from now. At some stage, Pay Per View (PPV) may be the only practical option to monetise this format in India.

 

But the next decade is relatively safe. It will be the Kohli decade after all. And if he can grow the loyal base of the format purely on the strength of his charisma, he will be a media industry star too, not just a cricketing one.

 

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