World cricket proposals to reduce the traditional 5 day tests to 4 days would be a disaster for the game. The idea is to speed up the game and make it more appealing to spectators. This comes after one of the most dramatic and exciting Ashes series as well as an epic opening two tests between South Africa and England.
That the CSA backed this proposal is shameful – it’s unlikely that much thought went into their support and there is justifiable speculation that the decision was motivated by financial reward. The CSA has not shown itself to have cricket as the core motivation in its decision making process of late, so we will leave it there. The focus of this piece is not about the shenanigans of Cricket South Africa but rather the lack of merit in the proposal to reduce the length of tests.
Some might argue that most tests finish within four days anyway. That is true but the fundamental driving force behind test cricket is how teams vary their tactics according to the state of play. This would change dramatically should the format be reduced to 4 days and it would remove this key element of the game.
Let’s play out a few scenarios.
1. You lose the toss and go out to field. In order to win the match you would need to bowl out the team batting first inside the first day, bat for 2 days then bowl them out again within a day. Assume you achieve the first target. The team that batted first would then do everything in their power to slow the game down so that the team batting second has less time to accumulate runs. Tactics would be dour and defensive. Even if the team batting second manages to bat for 2 days, would they have enough time to bowl out the opposition in 1 day? Would it be a fair contest? You would have one team completely dominating a test from start to finish but only have a 50% chance or less of converting that dominance into a victory.
Currently tests can ebb and flow and that is the beauty of the format. In a four-day game, that ebb and flow would be removed as the team that gets the early upper-hand would then permanently force the opposition into their shells and defensive mode.
2. Scenario two sees your team win the toss and elect to bat. In order to have any chance of victory you would need to bat for 2 days and then bowl the opposition out twice in the remaining two days. The bowlers would have no rest in between. Batting first would mean that you would have a significantly reduced opportunity to bat again unless you were forced to contrive a result … something that negates the skill of the game.
What if there is any rain at all over the 4 days? In the current format, you can lose half a day and still have a contest. In a 4-day test, you lose half a day and its time to switch off the TV … it’s a draw!
What about the toss? It would have increased significance. In my opinion, it already has too much influence on test matches. A better solution would be to alternate the decision, ie the winner of the toss in the first test gets to decide what to do but thereafter that option is alternated between the rest of the series. Put another way, there is only one toss at the beginning of the series. Alternatively, the visiting team gets to decide first in the first test and thereafter the option is alternated. In a four-day test the significance of the toss would have too great of an impact to allow for a fair contest.
There is nothing wrong with 5 day tests!
The players know it, the fans know it. It’s just the suits who think they know better and once again it all boils down to money. How many pockets can be lined at the expense of this great game?