The Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) announcement of India’s home fixtures, which it called the ‘India Cricket Season’, on Thursday, was unprecedented for more reasons than one.
First, that the fixtures and venues were released well in advance (before the 2016/17 season officially began), something the Board wasn’t exactly known for, and second, that it had a serious focus on Test cricket, the format of the game the BCCI has often been accused of ignoring at the cost of limited-overs cricket, which have been its cash-cow for the last two decades and a half.
India, as per the fixtures list released on Thursday, will host 13 Test matches over the course of the season, which officially begins in September 2016 and ends in April 2017, according to the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Future Tours Programme. The visitors include New Zealand, England, Australia and Bangladesh.
“Some of the best teams of world cricket are coming to play in India this season and we are excited to announce the schedule well in advance. This gives the staging associations and the BCCI, sufficient time to prepare and present, one of the most memorable cricketing seasons for our fans,” said Ajay Shirke, BCCI secretary in a media release.
The last time Indian cricket saw 13 Test matches played over a home season was in 1979/80, when Australia and Pakistan visited India for six-Test tours each and England played a one-off ‘Golden Jubilee Test’ in Mumbai. In the 1986/87 season, India hosted 11 Test matches.
The BCCI also confirmed that the six new Test venues—Indore, Rajkot, Dharamsala, Visakhapatnam, Pune and Ranchi—will be hosting their first matches over the course of the season. Indore will host the first Test match against New Zealand in September, with Rajkot and Visakhapatnam playing hosts to England later this year. Australia’s visit in early 2017 will see them play Test matches in Dharamsala, Ranchi and Pune. BCCI president Anurag Thakur said, “I welcome the new Test venues hosting this prestigious format of cricket and their arrival will take Test match cricket, to every corner of the country.”
India will also host a five-Test series for the first time in three decades, when England come calling. Five-Test series were a norm in India during the ’70s and ’80s. But with the proliferation and the unmatched commercial potential of limited-overs cricket, India turned to hosting three-test series regularly. In recent years, that has increased to four-match series against the top Test-playing nations, including England (2012/13), Australia (2013) and South Africa (2015/16). The last time India hosted a five-test series was in 1986/87, when Pakistan were visitors. India lost that series 1-0, with four drawn matches between the two neighbours.
This season will also see India potentially hosting one, if not two day-night Test matches, played with pink balls. Earlier this year, Thakur announced that one of the Test matches against New Zealand could be played under lights. James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, confirmed in May that the BCCI had approached them to convert one of their four Test matches into a day-night game. The Eden Gardens in Kolkata has emerged as a front-runner to host the day-night Test, should it happen.
The BCCI also announced that India would be hosting Bangladesh for the first time, sixteen years after the latter were given Test status. Bangladesh are scheduled to play a one-off Test in Hyderabad.