The first foreign player to deliver the Bradman Oration, which has been held since 2000, Dravid spoke of charting a clear road-map for the three formats as one of the biggest challenges facing the game. He said it was clear that the three formats could not continue to be played in equal amounts, but that none should be allowed to die out.
“Cricket must find a middle path,” Dravid said. “It must scale down this mad merry-go-round that teams and players find themselves in: heading off for two-Test tours and seven-match ODI series with a few Twenty20s thrown in.”
Dravid described Test cricket as “the gold standard” and the form that the players most wanted to play, and T20 as the cricket that fans wanted to see. To encourage spectators back to Test grounds around the world is a challenge for cricket administrators, and Dravid said it was important to keep the fans in mind, hence the potential of day-night Test cricket.
“Test cricket deserves to be protected, it is what the world’s best know they will be judged by,” he said. “Where I come from, nation versus nation is what got people interested in cricket in the first place. When I hear the news that a country is playing without some of its best players, I always wonder, what do their fans think?
“People may not be able to turn up to watch Test cricket but everyone follows the scores. We may not fill 65,000 capacity stadiums for Test matches, but we must actively fight to get as many as we can in, to create a Test match environment that the players and the fans feed off. Anything but the sight of Tests played on empty grounds.
“For that, we have got to play Test cricket that people can watch. I don’t think day-night Tests or a Test championship should be dismissed. In March of last year I played a day-night first-class game in Abu Dhabi for the MCC – and my experience from that was that day-night Tests is an idea seriously worth exploring. There may be some challenges in places where there is dew but the visibility and durability of the pink cricket ball was not an issue.”
Dravid also said that a Test championship would encourage every team and player to deliver strong performances in every match, with context provided for every Test. At the moment, there is an ICC Test rankings table but the inaugural Test championship will not be held until 2017, when Dravid will be 44 years old.
The ICC had hoped to bring the championship forward to 2013 and use it to replace the Champions Trophy, but commitments to the broadcaster and sponsors meant that could not be done. Dravid said he was against the idea of scrapping ODIs altogether but believed that events like the World Cup and the Champions Trophy should be the focus, with other ODIs contributing to rankings for those events.
“Since about, I think 1985, people have been saying that there is too much meaningless one-day cricket,” he said. “Maybe it’s finally time to do something about it … Anything makes more sense than seven-match ODI series.”
More context for matches might also help draw crowds back to the game. Dravid said he had been surprised to see the lack of spectators at an ODI series featuring India this year and he described the sight of empty stands as “alarming”.
“India played its first one-day international at home in November 1981 when I was nine,” he said. “Between then and now we have played 277 one-dayers at home; the five-match series against England in October was the first time our grounds were not full for an ODI featuring the Indian team.
“The India v England ODI series had no context, because the two countries had played each other in four Tests and five ODIs just a few weeks before. When India and the West Indies played ODIs a month after that, the grounds were full but this time matches were played in smaller venues that didn’t host too much international cricket. Maybe our clues are all there and we must remain vigilant.”
Dravid said that even if fans were watching on television, the experience was not the same. And that, he argued, could have consequences in the long term.
“Whatever the reasons are – maybe it is too much cricket or too little by way of comfort for spectators. The fan has sent us a message and we must listen. This is not mere sentimentality. Empty stands do not make for good television. Bad television can lead to a fall in ratings, the fall in ratings will be felt by media planners and advertisers’ looking elsewhere.
“If that happens, it is hard to see television rights around cricket being as sought after as they have always been in the last 15 years. And where does that leave everyone?”