Varun Shetty in Kolkata


Virat Kohli thinks the current format of the World Test Championship (WTC) could do with some tweaking, by alternating between home and away series for every team, as well as making them play equal number of home and away matches within a time frame. At the moment, India have won all their seven WTC matches – two away and five at home – across three series, and are sitting on top of the table with 360 points.

Australia, in comparison, will have played the opposite – two at home and five away – when their ongoing series against Pakistan ends in Adelaide. They have so far won three matches in the WTC cycle – two in the Ashes in England and one against Pakistan at home that ended on Sunday.

Points awarded per Test won in the WTC are 120 divided by the number of matches in a series – whether home or away – which means India winning a two-match series at home would fetch them the same points as, say, Australia winning a four-match series away. It’s the gulf between India and Australia, second on the table with 116 points, that led to a question for Kohli at the press conference.

“I think a more balanced format would be one series home, one away,” he said in Kolkata after India beat Bangladesh on the third day. “We’re playing very good cricket but we’ve played only two Tests away in the WTC. And you’re talking about an Ashes where we saw the level of cricket and the intensity at which those series were played. Pakistan is playing Australia for the first time in Test championship. So it is very tough to judge a team. You can praise our team on the performance, yes, but to say that we’re dominating like no other team is a very subjective thing to say.

“We’ve played three series so far. If by four series it was two home, two away and we had 300 points, then you can say we’re playing really well. We are definitely playing good cricket but I don’t think there should be any kind of tags attached to any kind of teams. In the WTC, even if we make the finals, there’s only one game. So whoever plays well [in that match] wins the championship. So it doesn’t matter how many points you have at the end of the day, you’ve to play good cricket to win. A good format would be one home, one away and we keep that balance and keep moving forward.”

Kohli has also been talking about the importance of Test cricket in recent times, explaining on Sunday that the players’ role had limits and that it is up to the boards to make sure they invest enough money for its sustained growth,

“I think the role of the players is only up to a limit,” Kohli said. “How your cricket board handles it [matters]. If you look at South Africa, they’ve been having issues for a few years now. I’m not sure how Test cricket is discussed in the Bangladesh board, how it’s promoted or how much importance it is given. I think eventually the strength of your Test cricket should come from the financial structure. If Test cricketers are not kept at a good financial level, after a while their motivation goes down because some player who plays 20-over games and is bowling four overs is making 10 times what you make.

“At the end of the day it’s your livelihood, so you’ll stop seeing the logic in sticking on after five-six years. You’ll want to change your profession and say you’ll only play T20s. I think that factor can only be sorted by your central contract.

“You see why Australia, England, New Zealand have been strong for years – because their contract structure starts from Tests and then everything else follows. So from my point of view, we have made those changes here so Test players feel that if they stay committed for a long time, then they’ll have a secure future. You should have motivation and passion but also logic alongside it. If you just say play with passion and financially forget about it, then as a professional cricketer you can’t just leave this and find a job somewhere else – you won’t get one, you only know how to do this. So I think that’s something we figured out and now we can see the results.”

Taking examples from Australia, England and New Zealand again, Kohli urged the BCCI to replicate their Test-match stadium experiences for spectators at home.

Kohli suggested “small things” like play areas for children could help keep the audience engaged throughout the day. India’s Indore and Kolkata Tests against Bangladesh were both played in front of strong crowds, but as things stand, they will not play a Test at home till their five-match series against England in 2021.

“I think it is very, very crucial to market Test cricket like we do for T20 and one-day cricket,” he said. “Because it is not only the job of the players playing, it spreads out to the management, to the cricket board and to the home broadcaster as well – of how you portray a particular product to the people. If you create excitement only around T20 and not so much around Test cricket, then in the psyche of the fan there’s already a certain template that’s established. So I think if there’s enough buzz created around Test cricket, then there will be a lot more keenness to come to the stadiums.”

The pink-ball Test in Kolkata drew more than 40,000 people on the first two days, at least some of which can be attributed to the novelty of India’s first day-night Test. Eden Gardens has also been a stronghold in Indian cricket, and large crowds are something of a given every time a Test is scheduled there. However, in various other parts of the country, stadiums are not as easy to fill. Kohli said he would add crowd interaction to that list to enhance the experience of spectators at a Test match.

“I am a big fan of having more interactive areas for people during the game, like you have in venues when we play abroad,” he said. “There’s something or the other always happening – maybe a play area for kids. These small things will really, really help.

“Maybe school kids could interact with team India players during lunch or be on the field, play with them, like we see in other countries as well. I think all these things will really bring the strength into Test cricket and people would want to come and have an experience of a Test match. It should be an event where you come and experience Test cricket, not just sit there and watch in the hot sun. I think there has to be more for the fans, I totally agree with that and it has to be marketed well.”

Among the more famous innovations at cricket grounds recently is the pool deck at the Gabba in Brisbane. Australia and South Africa also have pink Tests that involve efforts from the spectators, and venues in New Zealand and England are also open to allowing children to play inside the stadium premises – sometimes in the ground itself during a session break.

With India scheduled to play only limited-overs cricket at home for the next year or so, Kohli spoke of the need to focus on these innovations specifically for Tests.

“Again, it has to be planned in a way…marketed in a certain manner, whenever Test cricket comes back home,” Kohli said. “There has to be enough anticipation. And I hope these small changes that I spoke of, they’re only kept specifically for Test cricket. Because in one-day and T20s, you don’t need more interaction for the crowd. They’re already looking forward to slam-bang cricket and there’s so much happening on the field. But when there’s a session when there’s not much happening, what do they do between breaks? There also has to be more interaction for the fans [during that period]. That’s what I think.”

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