Cricket risks killing the goose that lays the golden egg if it disrespects fans by scheduling too many meaningless international matches, former India captain Rahul Dravid said on Wednesday.
Dravid, the first Indian to give the annual Sir Donald Bradman Oration, said the sport needed to find a balance between the three formats of the game and should consider playing Test matches, the “gold standard” of the game, at night.
“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,” the 38-year-old said in a speech.
“Test cricket deserves to be protected, it is what the world’s best know they will to be judged by. Where I come from, nation versus nation is what got people interested in cricket in the first place,” he said.
“When I hear the news that a country is playing without some of its best players, I always wonder, what do their fans think?” he said.
“We must actively fight to get as many [fans] 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,” he said.
“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,” he said.
Dravid, who said the money received from burgeoning television rights deals had been a major force for good in Indian cricket, had been shocked to see empty stadiums at recent one-day internationals between India and England.
“The fan has sent us a message and we must listen,” he said.
“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,” he added.
Dravid said that could have an impact on the value of television rights.
“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,” he said.
“Everything that has given cricket its power and influence in the world of sports has started from that fan in the stadium,” he added.
“They deserve our respect and let us not take them for granted. Disrespecting fans is disrespecting the game,” he said.
Dravid said the biggest dangers facing the sport were spot-fixing and players being tempted to become involved with the betting industry.
Players should be prepared to give up a “little bit of freedom of movement and privacy” to battle those scourges and undergo lie detector tests if necessary, he said.
He concluded by calling on his fellow players to remember that how they conducted themselves as they played cricket was reflected in the amateur game and would ultimately influence the generations of cricketers to come.
“As the game’s custodians, it is important we are not tempted by the short-term gains of the backward step,” he said.
“We can be remembered for being the generation that could take the giant stride,” he added.