Going in to bat for four-day tests
Expect the question “should four-day tests be legitimised?” to be on the agenda when the International Cricket Council board meets in Auckland this week.
South Africa and Zimbabwe are proposing to play such a fixture on Boxing Day in Port Elizabeth and, if permitted, it could prove the prototype for the future.
In a cricketing world which appears in a state of flux, this is a perfect time to recalibrate what test matches mean, and how they best exist in the contemporary sporting landscape.
Here’s a 10-point resolution to justify four-dayers becoming the status quo.
1. Start tests on Thursdays and finish on Sundays with possible logistical scope to extend to Monday if a day is rained out. Teams can travel on Tuesday and train on Wednesday. Repeat across a series.
2. Using point 1 as a basis, it would be easier to fit in three-test tours and give more context to a series, even if only two tests per series register in the proposed test championship.
3. Again, using point 1, broadcasters and hosts get to maximise their revenue, with the denouement coming over the traditional weekend when more people can attend or watch on TV. A day’s costs are also removed.
4. Extend the required over count to 100 per day. That way you get a maximum of 400 for the match as opposed to the incumbent 450. This is the age of T20. Modern players know how to accelerate a game to get a result. They might trot quicker between overs too, if there’s a suitable deterrent.
5. One hundred overs a day means increased advertising opportunities for broadcasters across the day and the potential to earn more from ticket sales and purchases inside the ground.
6. Encourage pitches which age faster so spinners can still exploit the conditions, particularly on the final day.
7. Domestic first-class programmes around the world are already played over four days, so players elevated to test status would do so on a like-for-like basis.
8. Four-dayers will make the test format less daunting for rookies Afghanistan and Ireland.
9. Five-day matches are hardly de rigueur across history. Tests of three, four, five and a scheduled six days have been tried. There was also the timeless test of 1939 between South Africa and England at Durban when the visitors tootled off after nine days’ play (12 days in total) to catch their boat home.
10. Truncated tests are increasingly common. According to statistician Ric Finlay in a July 2016 Cricinfo story, 28.6 per cent of all test matches had ended before the fifth day. In 21 New Zealand home tests over the past five summers, that figure is 42.9 per cent (nine matches).