India, Bangladesh to participate in first day/night test

Four years after the format was first introduced, both India and Bangladesh will finally join the pink ball party, becoming the ninth and tenth team to play a day/night Test when the second Test of Bangladesh's Tour of India begins today, Friday the 22nd of November. The Test is a long time in the making - some other Test playing nations have been eager to embrace the later start time, with Australia having made the annual Adelaide Test a day/night affair from 2016, but these two sides have been more loathe to adopt the new concept.

India visited Australia last year and were offered the chance to play in their first ever pink ball Test in Adelaide, but they refused, citing a disadvantage considering they had never played under lights before. The decision was a subject of much criticism, with many claiming that India were refusing to adapt to a move which was invariably going to benefit Test cricket, but the Board of Cricket Control in India didn't crumble.

12 months on, however, and they will finally join in the festivities. BCCI president Sourav Ganguly has claimed that Indian captain Virat Kohli had been perfectly willing to embrace the pink ball, and Kohli himself admitted that it was inevitable. However, the Indian captain doesn't believe it will ultimately become the norm for Test cricket in the same way many others do. According to Kohli, there are certain drawbacks associated with the later start, namely that 'you're losing that nervousness in that first session in the morning'. It is perhaps fair to say that that seems like a minimal price to pay considering the potential benefits of day/night cricket, namely the greater accessibility for fans, probable increase in popularity and subsequent increase in revenue, but at least the Indian team, despite their hesitations, have willingly agreed to try it out - even if it is a little late.

Indeed, Kohli acknowledged the importance of playing cricket under lights, saying that 'obviously we wanted to get a feel of pink ball cricket. Eventually, it had to happen.' At the same time, he admitted that the team did not want to be thrown into the format in conditions in which they were not familiar; 'The thing was to experience the pink-ball Test in our own conditions first, so you get the hang of how the ball behaves, what is the way to sight the ball and so on. Then, eventually, going and playing with the pink ball anywhere in the world.' Essentially, India didn't want to find themselves at a competitive disadvantage, something then-president of Cricket Australia James Sutherland suggested himself last year upon India's refusal to play the Adelaide Test at night.

With this in mind, the conditions under which India will finally participate in the format hardly come as a surprise. They'll play on their own home soil against virtually the only other major team in Test cricket which is also yet to play a day/night format, and a team that they will likely beat regardless. From an Indian perspective this is fair enough - they didn't want to throw themselves in the deep end so to speak, and anything that would impact their ability to play at their best was something they didn't want to be involved in.

There would, however, no doubt be plenty of other teams who would scoff at India's unwillingness to risk their own ability to compete - however minimal that risk may be - in order to benefit Test cricket. After all, numerous teams played their first ever day/night Test away from home in conditions in which they were unfamiliar - New Zealand's first was in Australia, West Indies' was in Pakistan, South Africa in Australia, Sri Lanka in Pakistan, Zimbabwe in South Africa, and now of course Bangladesh in India. These teams were at the same disadvantage India claimed they would be at had they agreed to the Adelaide day/night Test.

And while Virat Kohli is a brilliant player and typically a very fair, reasonable and measured personality, many of his comments in the lead-up to this Test have likely raised some eyebrows. He has repeatedly stated that he and the team have no qualms with playing with the pink ball, they just didn't want it to be 'a sudden thing'. According to him, 'you can't just, two days before you get on a plane, say 'play a pink ball Test' in a week's time. We didn't think it was logical from that point of view. It needed a bit of preparation.' But those comments conveniently ignore the fact that India was asked to play under lights in Adelaide, a Test which was played in early December, in May. That would have given them seven months to prepare to play with the pink ball.

In contrast, the upcoming day/night Test in Kolkatta was only confirmed last month, giving them roughly three weeks to prepare. Of course, they may have known earlier that it was going to be confirmed, but the argument that they needed time to prepare doesn't have a lot of merit given those respective timelines.

It's well known that India has an inordinate amount of control over world cricket, and it's easy to understand why - they are responsible for generating significantly over half of the sport's revenue, and without them it would crumble. And in this case, they wielded that power. Whatever the justifications they may give for taking so long to get involved in this format may be, the reality is that they simply didn't want to play because there was a possibility it would impact them negatively. Numerous other teams had accepted that fact and played their first day/night Test away from home regardless, but India know they have the power to say no without repercussions and they exercised that power. 

Of course, that they would eventually play in a night Test was a reality, as is the fact that the later start time will become more and more common over the next few years. They would have known this, and so they have ensured that their entry to the format is as smooth as possible from their perspective. They'll play on home soil and against a team which they should beat without too much trouble, and any competitive advantage which comes from having played a day/night Test or too in the past - an advantage which is realistically relatively questionable - is nullified by the fact that Bangladesh has also never played in the format before.

Ultimately the result is the same; India will finally play in a day/night Test, as will Bangladesh, and that is good for Test cricket. India will head in as comfortable favourites against Bangladesh - something which would be the case whether they started each days play at 11am, 2pm or midnight - and both teams will get to experience the different conditions which come when night falls and with the pink ball. After all, there's no doubt the conditions are different - the doubt is more around how much of a competitive advantage a team which has played the format just once or twice over the course of a number of years would actually have. 

But they will play it, and if Kohli is being genuine then this should lead to the team being more willing to play in more day/night Tests in future - even when they are away from home. The Indian captain may well be right that this will not become the only way that Test matches are played going forward - though there are plenty of benefits to it, even the pink balls staunchest supporters wouldn't necessarily advocate for the complete abandonment of the day Test. But it will, inevitably, become more common given its numerous advantages, and all Test playing nations around the world will be involved in the move. India and Bangladesh were always going to be included in that move; it was just a matter of when. And as of Friday, 22 November 2019, the time is now.

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