Pongal Test: Forgotten tradition of Indian cricket
India is a country that has a rich and diverse cultural heritage. But one religion that unites 1.2 billion people is Cricket which itself is rich in tradition. Isn't it hard to digest that India doesn't have a tradition like a Boxing Day test which could be followed every year?
Just like a traditional Boxing Day Test at Melbourne Cricket Ground or a New year Test in Sydney Cricket Ground, India had a similar tradition called as the "Pongal Test" which was played at MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai in the second week of January every year. The Tests got its name as it coincided with the Harvest festival of Pongal celebrated for Thousand of years in Tamil Nadu.
The first ever Pongal Test happened in the 1959 -1960 season when Gulabrai Ramchand's India took on Richie Benaud's Australia. Although India lost that match, it started India's love affair with Chepauk (as it is fondly called). In fact, Chepauk is India's most successful Test venue with 14 wins.
The tradition of Pongal Test continued till 1988 when West Indies toured India. India had tasted a fair amount of success with a record of 5 wins 2 losses 2 draws. Cricket was also played at Nehru Stadium which is located nearby to Chepauk, where India lost only one of the four Pongal Tests played.
Chepauk is called the spiritual home of cricket in India and has played hosts to some of the iconic moments in cricketing history. Who can forget Sachin Tendulkar's brilliant 136 against Pakistan 1999, when Chennai stood up and applauded the opposition for their gamesmanship.
Narendra Hirwani's figures of 16/ 136 in the last Pongal Test in 1988 still hold the record for best figures in a debut match, the iconic tied Test between Australia and India were some of the gems that are etched in the memory of the world.
MAC also hosted the first international match after the horrible 26/11 Mumbai Terror attack, in which an emotional Sachin led India to the highest successful run chase ever in India scoring 387 in four sessions.
Although Test matches are regular at Chepauk, none was on the eve of the Pongal week. With the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) adopting venue rotation policy and with India's packed international schedule, the tradition of Pongal Tests couldn't be followed.
BCCI should consider bringing back the Pongal Test as it will be held in a week when the entire state will be on a holiday, hence will throng in numbers and can increase the interest in the longest format. The smaller cities can host limited-over games, while the Tests can be scheduled in traditional venues.
With the ICC Test Championship in place, and India set to play three home and away series in a cycle, BCCI can schedule at least a Test once in every cycle, and thus reaffirming the relationship between Cricket and Chepauk.