India’s last visit to Australia witnessed a lot of brouhaha around scheduling. The opening Test was typically batsmen-friendly Adelaide Oval instead of Brisbane, renowned for its pace and bounce. To add to that, there was no day-night Test on the itinerary, when Australia have seriously promoted this brand of Test cricket at home over the last few years. And now when India is set to visit again in 2020, the same old debates have opened up.
Cricket Australia CEO Kevin Roberts, though, has assured that India is not opposed to playing at any venue in the country and that their solid lead at the top of the World Test Championship table might play a pivotal role in getting them to agree to play a pink-ball Test.
“I don’t see India being opposed to that (playing in Brisbane)… there is a lot to work through. But I don’t see India being opposed to any venue,” Roberts said. “Certainly what we heard speculated in the last India tour that they refused to play at the Gabba is simply not true, so we have productive discussions with them in terms of all the future tours we are playing, be it over in India or here. We commend India in being a good global citizen in growing the game all around the world…don’t think (they) get enough credit for their generosity for the game around the world. They tour more days away from home than any other country in world cricket.”
On the matter of pink-ball Tests, Virat Kohli himself recently admitted that they were hesitant to play a day-night Test last time around owing to lack of exposure. But things have changed now. Kolkata recently hosted India’s first-ever day-night Test under the leadership of new BCCI president Sourav Ganguly — someone who has publicly advocated Test cricket’s need to align itself with the demands of pink-ball Test. Roberts sees hope there.
“I believe we should be playing one pink-ball Test in the Indian series next year,” Roberts said. “India to their credit are doing very well in this World Test Championship, and it’s highly likely that they will make the final in 2021 if you look at where the standards are now and what’s coming. I suspect that will make it easier to schedule a day-night Test next season if India have relative certainty of making the WTC final, then there is less reason not to play a day-night Test and more reason to play one.
“Also with Sourav Ganguly coming into the presidency of the BCCI, he’s been very proactive in scheduling the first day-night Test in India, and we saw that was a sell-out in three days which is very different to what the previous day series have looked at in terms of ticket sales. There is an openness from India and an understanding that it is good for cricket. And they’re standing in the WTC hopefully helps things next season,” Roberts added.
The itinerary of the next summer is also somewhat complicated by Australia’s internal strife when it comes to match allotment. Roberts clarified that no Test match is locked at any venue, be it the opening summer Test in Brisbane, the Boxing Day Test at MCG or the New Year’s Test at SCG. He acknowledged the “commitments” to hold a Test each in Melbourne and Sydney but that’s how deep the commitments run.
“No specific Test anywhere around the country is locked in into the future. There are commitments to have a Test at the MCG and the SCG, that’s the depth of the commitment,” Roberts said. “What we do know is that there is a rich history around Boxing Day, we love that and respect that and we would like to see Boxing Day Test continue at the MCG. There’s an average opening-day crowd of over 70,000 at the MCG, so that’s the only venue in Australia which can accommodate that crowd so that’s a key consideration.”
Roberts said that what the players want and tradition will play a huge role in how they draw up the schedule. “The challenging thing we’ve got to work through is when there’s not as many Test matches as there are capital cities,” Roberts said. “We look at the playing side of things, it’s a really important thing, especially for the first Test where the players have a very strong preference for the first Test of any major series to be played at the Gabba.
“As you would appreciate as we travel around the country for different Test matches, there are very valid articles put up in each city, with the likes of Michael Vaughan and Shane Warne asking, how could Cricket Australia possibly schedule a first Test anywhere other than Brisbane, they would be crazy. And then understandably we come to Perth and a very good stadium that the government has invested heavily in, and from a WA perspective it’s how could we not schedule a Test match here?”