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In a time, when Test cricket is finding it tough to stay relevant after the boom of ODIs and T20s, Pongal Test was different since cricket fanatics used to hit the stadium in a large number.
Boxing-Day is a significant occasion in international cricket calendar as Test matches are scheduled to be started on December 26 in three Christian majority countries –Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. While India took on hosts Australia at Melbourne Cricket Ground, the traditional theatre of Boxing-Day Test Down Under, New Zealand and Sri Lanka locked horns at Hagley Oval in Christchurch and South Africa hosted Pakistan at SuperSport Park in Centurion. These matches are well attended as the day after Christmas is the gifts giving day, namely the Boxing-Day, a national holiday.
As holiday mood prevails in the Southern Hemisphere during this particular time of the year, people hit the cricketing arenas in a large number to make this Test a memorable one. Hence, cricket governing bodies of these countries find out time from the busy international schedule to host Boxing-Day Test as it beefs up the ticket selling. Notwithstanding, it brings a wide smile on boards of these countries.
Considering a large number of fans it draws big brands look for a space to get the attention of them. In the process, these boards’ make a huge profit from this fixture. But, have you ever wondered why there is no such Test being played in India? There are ample occasions for Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to launch a marquee Test match of Boxing-Day Test stature. Thus, it is still a mystery why the Indian cricket board fails to come up with an idea of a Test that denotes festive season, especially in a country where cricket holds a special place is in everybody’s heart.
Pongal Test- a lost tradition
You would be surprised to know that there was a Test match which used to be played at M. A. Chidambaram Stadium during the Pongal festival, which is popularly known as Thai Pongal in Tamil Nadu. The four-day carnival symbolizes harvest festival in the state. It used to be a noteworthy event in India’s cricket calendar. The first Pongal Test was played in 1959-1960 when Gulabrai Ramchand’s Indians took on Richie Benaud’s Australians at Chennai, formerly Madras. However, it is a lost tradition now.
The last time the Pongal Test was played in 1988 when the touring West Indies side played India at Chepauk Stadium. This Test could be a marketing man’s glee, considering a four-day long holiday in the state. In a state where people are regarded as the most knowledgeable cricket fans of the country or of the world, holidays are not always required to make the stadium a packed house. In a time, when Test cricket is finding it tough to stay relevant after the boom of ODIs and T20s, Pongal Test was different since cricket fanatics used to hit the stadium in a large number. They were often spotted standing in the queue – rain pouring heavily, raincoats on – to acquire a ticket of the Test match, which was most likely to be washed out.
Even knowing the fate of the match, they didn’t want to waste a bit of chance of watching live cricket from iconic Chepauk Stadium. With the monsoon is over the weather becomes pleasant the festive mood prevails this time around in the southern state of India, the city doesn’t afford to give a miss to their most loved thing –Test cricket, which gained much popularity in Chennai from the day it came into effect. But, BCCI’s venue rotation policy, ICC’s Future Tour Programme and a tight international schedule left no time for the Pongal Test, observes R.I. Palani, honorary joint secretary of the TNCA.
Since FTP came into effect, series in India is scheduled between October and December. So, even before the Pongal festival starts, India’s home season gets over. In this circumstance, BCCI never showed their wish to extend India’s home season till January as it doesn’t want to cope with financial blow (India earn millions overseas tour) owing to one – Pongal Test. There is no space for denying the reality that the rotation policy has its merits. But how can you deny the patronage of local cricket fans for a Test match when Test cricket has not been well received at most of the venues of the country.
You will find a stark difference in Chennai based cricket fanatics’ love for the game in comparison to fans of other parts of the country. They are a loud lot; they cheer for beauties produced by cricketers, and never hold back themselves from channelizing their observations expressing their views. At MCA you will always see a full-house. A beautiful cover drive, an absolute ripper that leaves wickets spinning and even a good save is often greeted with vociferous cheer, and their applause is not limited to home team alone. There are ample examples that made them the ultimate cricket fans- whose love for the game is not limited to their country only as they never mind to cheer for oppositions. If the touring team appears as an excellent unit on the ground cricket fanatics of Chennai will even get ready to rise on their feet which is rear in cricket’s history. In 1999, when a magnificent Pakistan decimated India even after a brilliant hundred notched up by Sachin Tendulkar, the Cheapuk Stadium didn’t hesitate to give a standing ovation to Wasim Akram’s men.
Remember the background of that iconic Test match which was played in the Kargil war background. Hence, it would not be out of place to say that Chennai’s cricket fans are more in love with cricket than cheering for a team which falls to oppositions’ luminosity.
What is the solution?
With T20s and ODIs are better acknowledged at smaller cities –A and B1- let the Test match be enclosed to traditional theatres as fans of these venues are renowned for giving a warm reception to Test cricket. Fans are an integral part of the game. Their active presence can only make a game a greater one. Nowhere else in India you will see crowed for Test such as those in Chennai.
BCCI has to learn from their counterparts – Cricket Australia, New Zealand Cricket and Cricket South Africa – how to make the best use of festive season in order to make a Test cricket fixture a popular cum profitable one. As tradition comes from the continuity, the Pongal Test has a lot of potential to emerge as a regular fixture on the Indian cricket calendar. At the same time, it could be the season’s best game changer, in terms of money like its further distinguished counterparts in the Southern Hemisphere.
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