Four-Day Test: A Boon or Bane For the Traditional Form of Cricket?
What is the guarantee that this latest innovation in the most purest form of cricket will be the last one by ICC?
If the pink ball and Day-Night Test wasn’t enough, now International Cricket Council (ICC) are mulling to bring in a more drastic and destructive change to the most traditional format of the game. The parent body has proposed to reduce the duration of a Test match from five days to four days from the 2023 World Test Championship with the aim to free up some of the international calendar.
But the house is already divided since ICC came up with the proposal. On one hand we have both former and current cricketers who have opposed this move. Their argument is simply based on the fact that a five-day affair continue to test the calibre of a cricketer and the fifth day allows to keep in check the weather factor and more importantly the time factor, which is the true essence of Test cricket – the survival against time.
Meanwhile, the people in support of the move highlighted the entertainment factor which a four-day Test might guarantee along with the latest offering of World Test Championship. Barring few cricketers, it is mostly the administrators and broadcasters -- the commercial keepers of the game -- who are championing the prospect of a four-day Test.
Now, one thing needs to be kept in mind is that the debate that has been going on for at least the last five years.
Math Behind Four-Day Test
In the last decade (from 1 January 2010 – 31 December 2019) 349 Test matches were won by 11 teams. 149 of them (47 percent of total) were won on the fifth day of the Test, while 200 of them were won in four days or less.
In 2019 alone around 67 percent Tests were won by the end of the fourth day. So, the writing was always on the wall. As the gap between the top three and other side widens, ICC and other administrators are quick to harp on the fact that there is no need for a fifth day in a Test match any more.
In fact, in the same decade the big three of world cricket – Australia, England and India – also recorded a huge percentage of Test wins with the first four days of a match.
While 56 percent of Australia’s Test wins in the last decade were in four days or less, India’s number stood at 60 percent. But it was England who had the maximum percentage of quick wins at 63.
So, numbers and stats do point towards that fact most Test matches these days no longer need five days for a result. But again, these numbers don’t hold true in all cases, especially Tests involving the top three cricketing nations.
“I think there is some merit on it being in the odd Test like we did with England and Ireland,” Tim Paine said. “But I think the big marquee Test series, the Test Championship stuff has to stay five days.”
Why Four-Day Test Might Make Sense
At a time when there is a struggle to market the 50-over game and bring crowds to the stadium, it is not at all surprising that administrators all around the world are losing their sleep over making Test matches more viewer-friendly.
With the advent of T20 cricket, the attention span of audiences have reduced further. In that sense a loss of one day is more profitable rather than being a marketing maneuver.
Currently, when a Test match is awarded to a centre, the cricketing body has to make arrangements for all five days irrespective of the fact that the match might get over on the first day itself. Making matters worse is dying footfall at stadiums for Test matches.
“If you actually dissect a five-day Test match, the fifth day is costing the game a lot of money,” said former English captain Michael Vaughan.
“We always have to remember that cricket is an entertainment business. At the minute the white-ball game has overtaken Test cricket. So, we need to make it more relevant and more appealing. It might just bring a little more relevance if it gets shortened,” said Vaughan.
The dwindling Test fans might once again just lap up this new change (read innovation) just like the pink ball and twilight session for Tests. And the longest format might just get another lease of life.
But, Do We Actually Need Four-Day Tests?
Let’s go back to the earlier mentioned statistics. In the last decade, 149 Tests were won on the fifth day while in 2019 around 33 percent of Tests were won by a side on day five.
Surely, this includes Tests which were won during the first hour of day five but still if four-day Test existed during this time may be there would have been at least 100 draws in the last decade or at least 25 percent to 30 percent Tests drawn in 2019.
And we all know there is no greater enemy of popularity of Test cricket than drawn matches.
“I’m very much a traditionalist. I like the game the way it is. In respects to changing how many days it’s played, I’m actually against it. I like the way it is,” said Australian great Glenn McGrath.
“To me five days is very special, and I’d hate to see it get any shorter. The introduction of pink Tests, day-night Tests is a great way to continue keeping our game fresh and moving forward,” McGrath said.
Four-day Test is expected to open up some free space in the hectic and gruesome calendar of a modern-day cricketer. But there also conditions apply. What if ICC is clearing the calendar space in order to fit in another ICC tourney or may the boards, which have already given their nod for the proposal, are planning another competition on the lines of the super successful Indian Premier League.
As far as the time factor is concerned, there is a flip side to it. In case of a five-day Test, teams struggle to finish their quota of 90 overs in a day. Now, it is believed that four-day Tests will have 98 overs a day. So, it would be interesting to see how teams cope with this, especially in the sub-continent.
And last but not the least what is the guarantee that this latest innovation of the purest form of cricket will be the last one?
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