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Four day Tests

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Four_Day_Test_CricketTest cricket has come a long way since its inception in the late 19th century. The format has progressed in leaps and bounds, enthralling several generations of avid cricket fans over the decades.

We are at an interesting point in world cricket. The high-octane of T20s has taken over the imagination of people and the longest format of the game is struggling to generate the interest it once used to.

In the past few years, there have been plenty of discussions regarding the changes needed to boost Test cricket. A number of those have come down to making a case for four-day Tests. The discussion has gathered steam and we are currently witnessing the reality of four-day Test cricket.

In September, Cricket South Africa had announced that they will host Zimbabwe for a four-day, day-night Test in Port Elizabeth, starting from December 26. The ICC’s approval of labelling this fixture an ‘official’ Test, has opened up a can of worms in the cricketing world. As four-day Tests are now approved, they will only be played when there is an MoU between member countries. It is also likely that, at least in the early stages, four-day Tests will only be played between the younger teams in the format.

Test cricket is sometimes considered so sacrosanct by purists that any tweaking ruffles a lot of feathers. Whether four-day Test cricket goes on to be successful or not, we shall know in time. For now, let us try and gauge whether this idea is lucrative.

Why Four-Day Tests can be lucrative

One of the biggest arguments against four-day Tests is ‘tradition’. Purists like to cling to the image of Test cricket being played across five days and don’t want it to be tampered with. However, for the greater good of Test cricket and its profitability in the future, going the four-day route might not be a bad idea.

We have started with 98 overs a day for four days. In the last four years, the average number of overs in a Test has been close to 330. So 98 overs a day seems to be a sensible model if the notoriously slow over rates can be sorted out.

In the 1970s, the Packer Supertests between Australia and the Rest of the World were four-day contests and had really intriguing results. Trying it in international cricket between the best teams would add a different dimension to the format and certainly spice things up a bit. The teams should play differently and perhaps the pitches will be a tad spicier, to produce quicker results. This might just be the shot in the arm Test cricket needs and bring in some new fans to the game.

One must not forget that a lot of Tests end within four days itself. Since 2010, in fact, more than 100 Tests have ended up finishing inside four days. Modern, fast-paced cricket has ensured more results in Tests and the games finishing quicker. It makes sense to have four-day Tests in this scenario. It will help the broadcasters immensely to have four-day Tests and avoid revenue losses due to games finishing ahead of schedule.

Four-day Tests can also be scheduled more effectively, starting on a Thursday and ending during the weekend. Since the more action-packed days would be played on Saturday and Sunday, it is certain to attract more crowds. If it’s a day-night match, things would be even better.

Furthermore, they will allow more rest for players between games in a long series. The current international cricketing calendar is extremely cramped and exhausting for the players. Playing a long Test series can be pretty draining. Four-day Tests will help them get more rest and stay refreshed during the series.

The most interesting thing that can happen with four-day Tests is the approach of the cricketers themselves. If only 400 overs can be bowled, bowlers are likely to be more aggressive and captains have to be more innovative in their approach to get wickets & results in their favor. This will make the game more exciting, result-oriented and spectator-friendly.

But for all of this to become a standard, it has to be agreed that Test cricket needs some changes to survive. Merely throwing up your hands in the air and vehemently opposing any tinkering with the format will lead us nowhere. The idea of four-day Tests might not be extremely appealing, but it looks effective. To do nothing and let time take its course will be very damaging for Test cricket’s future.

Test cricket’s future at stake

There is no denying that five-day Tests have a certain allure that can be a welcome change in this fast paced world. Their rich tradition is undeniable. It is understandable that many are uncomfortable with the idea of such a radical change. But, like it or not, society has dramatically transformed today. The attention span of the modern cricket fan is very limited and hence they are being pulled towards a format like T20. Adapting to preserve this rich format makes more sense than being adamant in holding it back the way it was.

The four-day Test idea may not work out and might have some drawbacks. For starters, spinners, who thrive on the last two days of a five-day Test, may find it a tad challenging to perform in the four-day format. Rain interruptions may play a major dampener in a four-day Test as there would not be enough reserve time to make up for time lost to the elements. Scoring rates are likely to rise and the naysayers may begin regarding four-day Tests as elongated limited-overs matches.

Executing this on a regular basis will pose a challenge. First, a compromise from both players and administrators would need to be achieved. The cricketers themselves need to be sold on the idea of four-day Tests as the future.

Despite these obstacles, one must at least give four-day Tests a chance. They could be a step in the right direction; a potential watershed moment in the history of the game.

Test cricket needs to reflect the changing times to remain relevant. It needs to evolve and innovate to save itself from stagnancy. Four-day Tests might not be the only viable option, but it certainly is one worth trying.

 

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