India embraces pink-ball cricket

India's maiden pink-ball match lasted a little over two days, but the buzz surrounding the event proved that proper marketing is essential for the future of Test cricket, said captain Virat Kohli.

India's board has often been accused of neglecting the longest format of the game, which has been losing fans to the limited-overs version around the world, but there was no doubt about the BCCI's commitment to the day-night Test against Bangladesh in Kolkata.

In the build-up to the match, prominent city landmarks were illuminated in pink, ticket prices were slashed, dignitaries were invited to attend and players spoke excitedly about the challenges of playing with the pink ball under lights.

More than 42,000 fans turned up on each of the first two days, many of them drawn by the pink-ball novelty, and Kohli said this is how Test cricket should be promoted.

"I think it is very, very crucial to market Test cricket like we do for T20 or one-day cricket," he said after his team thrashed Bangladesh by an innings and 46 runs. "If there's enough buzz created around Test cricket, then there will be a lot more keenness to come to the stadiums."

Kohli suggested measures such as allowing students to interact with players during breaks as a way to further engagement with fans.

"It should be an event where you come and experience a Test match, not just sit there and watch in hot conditions," he said. "I think it has to be more for the fans and has to be marketed well."

The series opener in Indore also drew a big crowd but India are not scheduled to play another Test series at home until they host England in 2021.

"It has to be marketed in a certain manner whenever Test cricket comes back home. There has to be enough anticipation," said Kohli. "The pink-ball Test is a beginning. I'm sure these will be planned more often and that buzz would be created in different parts of the country as well."

Former captain Sourav Ganguly's rise to BCCI president has been the catalyst for India's decision to embrace day-night matches and Kohli was convinced Test cricket would be a priority for India.

"We're walking in the right direction and I think, under him, we'll see a lot more positive changes which will be cricket-specific and priority will be given to Test cricket," the Indian captain said.

He even said India are open to playing a day-night Test in Australia next year. India declined Australia's offer to play a day-night Test in Adelaide last year citing lack of experience. With day-night Tests seen as a possible solution to Test cricket's dwindling attendances, Australia are hopeful that India will agree to play one at the Gabba next year.

Australian skipper Tim Paine took a cheeky dig at Kohli when asked about scheduling the first Test against India in Brisbane, where the hosts completed a dominant victory over Pakistan last Sunday.

"We'll certainly try but we'll have to run that by Virat," Paine quipped after the Test win. "I'm sure we'll get an answer from him at some stage. Maybe even get a pink-ball Test if he's in a good mood."

Kohli, however, said it could not be on short notice. "There has to be planning for a pink-ball game," he said, pointing to the struggle of a Bangladesh team whose pink-ball inexperience was laid bare in their comprehensive defeat in Kolkata.

"We played in home conditions. You ask Bangladesh and they'd have liked a practice game before this game," said Kohli. "Just because we know these conditions and our bowlers are bowling so well, we don't really feel the challenge."

Pink balls are used in all day-night Tests for visibility reasons, but behave differently to the red ones, with players having commented that they swing more and do not spin as much.

Kohli smashed 136 before India declared their first innings on 347-9 and his quicks wreaked havoc with the heavily-lacquered ball to rout Bangladesh.

Kohli revealed how they tweaked their approach to the first two sessions after a suggestion from batting great Sachin Tendulkar to overcome the challenge of batting under lights.

"He made a very interesting point - that with the pink ball, you have to treat the second session like the morning session of a normal Test when it's getting darker and the ball starts to swing and seam," Kohli said. "So your planning changes, your declaration strategy and timing, everything changes. As a batsman, your setup changes.

"Even if you are set and batting well, as soon as it gets dark and lights are on, you can be in trouble."

Players from both sides spoke about the challenge of batting under lights and Kohli felt at times the atmosphere at the heaving Eden Gardens resembled that of a Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 match.

"Under lights, it was a different experience. The first time when I walked out, it felt like an IPL game atmosphere," he said. "So you feel like smashing the first ball but then you have to remind yourself that you have to play compact."

Ganguly was thrilled with the reception for India's first day-night Test.

"Just take a look around. Do you see this? Have you seen this in Test cricket? When was the last time you had a capacity crowd watching a Test match? Feels like it is a World Cup final," he told IANS.

"Oh! It is an absolutely amazing feeling. Feels great... This is what Test cricket should be, packed stadiums."

Reuters, AFP


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