Indian batsman Rahul Dravid has delivered the 2011 Sir Donald Bradman Oration in Canberra, using it to talk about a wide range of topics ranging from India and Australia's links during the two World Wars to the future of the game.
Dravid spoke perceptively and knowledgeably about his experiences in the game, joking that while Bradman once scored a century at Lord's before lunch, his recent ton at the home of cricket took him nearly a day.
He was the first Indian to be asked to deliver the oration, which was held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, to which Dravid referred early on in his piece.
"Even though there is neither a pitch in sight, nor stumps or bat and balls, as a cricketer, I feel I stand on very sacred ground tonight," he said.
"When I was told that I would be speaking at the National War Memorial, I thought of how often and how
meaninglessly, the words 'war', 'battle', 'fight' are used to describe cricket matches.
"Yes, we cricketers devote the better part of our adult lives to being prepared to perform for our countries, to persist and compete as intensely as we can – and more.
"This building, however, recognises the men and women who lived out the words – war, battle, fight - for real and then gave it all up for their country, their lives left incomplete, futures extinguished."
Moving on to cricketing matters, he described how thousands of Indians turned up when Bradman made an unscheduled stop in Calcutta and said he felt that the 2001 India-Australia Test series, played out just days after Bradman had passed away, would have been one the great man would have enjoyed following.
Dravid then went on to offer an assessment of how much the game as changed since his debut back in 1996.
"I believe this is also a time for introspection within our game, not only in India,but all over the world. We have been given some alerts and responding to them quickly is the smart thing to do.
"I was surprised a few months ago to see the lack of crowds in an ODI series featuring India. By that I don't mean the lack of full houses, I think it was the sight of empty stands I found somewhat alarming.
"India played its first one-day international at home in November 1981 when I was nine. Between then and now India have played 227 ODIs at home; the October five-match series against England, was the first time that the grounds have not been full for an ODI featuring the Indian team.
"In the summer of 1998, I played in a one-dayer against Kenya in Kolkata and the Eden Gardens was full. Our next game was held in the 48-degree heat of Gwalior and the stands were heaving.
"The October series against England was the first one at home after India's World Cup win. It was called the 'revenge' series meant to wipe away the memory of a forgettable tour of England. India kept winning every game, and yet the stands did not fill up. Five days after a 5-0 victory, 95,000 turned up to watch the India's first Formula One race.
"A few weeks later, I played in a Test match against the West Indies in Calcutta, in front of what was the lowest turn out in Eden Gardens’ history. Yes we still wanted to win and our intensity did not dip. But at the end of the day, we are performers, entertainers and we love an audience. The audience amplifies everything you are doing, the bigger the crowd the bigger the occasion, its magnitude, its emotion. When I think about the Eden Gardens crowds this year, I wonder what the famous Calcutta Test of 2001 would have felt like with 50,000 people less watching us.
"Australia and South Africa played an exiting and thrilling test series recently and two great test matches produced some fantastic performances from players of both teams ,but was sadly played in front of sparse crowds.
"It is not the numbers Test players need, it is the atmosphere of a Test that every player wants to revel in and draw energy from; my first reaction to the lack of crowds for cricket was that there had been a lot of cricket and so perhaps, a certain amount of spectator-fatigue. That is too simplistic a view; it's the easy thing to say but might not be the only thing.
"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 afer 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.
"Unlike Australia or England, Indian cricket has never had to compete with other sports for a share of revenues, mindspace or crowd attendance at international matches.
"The lack of crowds may not directly impact on revenues or how important the sport is to Indians, but we do need to accept that there has definitely been a change in temperature over, I think, the last two years.
"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?
"I'm not trying to be an economist or doomsday prophet – this is just how I see it."
He added that his experience playing for the MCC in the United Arab Emirates in a four-day game using a pink ball under floodlights leads him to believe that day/night Test cricket remains a viable option to investigate and test.
"Test cricket deserves to be protected, it is what the world's best know they will to be judged by.
"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.
"Similarly, a Test championship with every team and player driving themselves to be winners of a sought after title seems like it would have a context to every game.
"Keeping Tests alive, may mean different innovations in different countries – maybe taking it to smaller cities, playing it in grounds with smaller capacities like New Zealand has thought of doing, maybe reviving some old venues in the West Indies, like the old Recreation Ground in Antigua."
© Cricket World 2011