Why four-day Tests might fail in the sub-continent particularly?

A Bit about what happened in the MCC world cricket committee meeting in Mumbai…

The MCC world cricket committee met in Mumbai on December 6th and 7th, the two days prior to the start of the Mumbai Test between India and England, and one of the discussion points was reducing the duration of Test matches from five to four days. Reduction of bat sizes and red carding players for violent and unacceptable on-field behaviour, with the latter likely to come into effect from October 1st, 2017, were among the aspects that were discussed in the two-day meeting in Mumbai.

Ricky Ponting and Ramiz Raja, two ex-cricketers who are currently members of the MCC world cricket committee, were a part of the meeting in Mumbai and were largely in favour of sticking with five-day Tests, albeit they acknowledged that a few minor tweaks could be made to Test cricket to potentially make it more exciting.

Here’s what Ponting, former Australian captain, said after the meeting:

“We have had two days of meetings, and to be fair we spent more time as a committee debating this four-day comparison to five-day Test cricket.”

Former Pakistan batsman Raja, even though he acknowledged that four-day Tests will likely result in proactive declarations from captains and allow the game to be played at a higher tempo, said he is a fan of the prevalent model of Test cricket.

It is a difficult debating point.” “One big advantage with a four-day Test match is that it improves the pace of Test cricket, and there will be exciting declarations and something out of the ordinary, which may give new lease of life to Test cricket.”

“Personally, I am very much in favour of five-day Test cricket and we only have to look back at the last 12-18 months and see how many great five-day Test matches there have been,” Raja opined.

Four-day Tests Proposal History

In the year 2003, the International Cricket Council (ICC) received the first proposal for four-day Tests, from Andrew Wildblood, who was back then a senior international vice president of the International Management Group (IMG), a talent management company.

Since then, truncating Tests being played over five days to four days has been regularly suggested, mostly by administrators and the cricket boards (England Cricket Board, Cricket South Africa, Sri Lanka Cricket, and the Blackcaps).

Cricfooty‘s opinion on four-day Test matches

I wonder what’s the main objective of shortening the length of Test matches: whether the sole aim is to bring in larger crowds by starting a Test on a Thursday and ending it on a Sunday or if it’s a result of “presuming” four-day Test matches will make the longest format of the sport more exciting… as if five-day Tests aren’t exciting at the moment.

Because, as Ramiz Raja has said, five-day Tests are already exhilarating, to say the least. And, for example, the turnouts on days one, two and three for the ongoing Mumbai Test match between India and England, have been very good. Let us also not forget that the venues in Kanpur, Kolkata and Indore received very good crowds on almost all days of the India v New Zealand 2016 Test Series.

Only a very low percentage of Tests end in draws these days, with inclement weather being the primary cause for drawn Tests. The fourth Test between West Indies and India was abandoned due to an excessively wet outfield at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain and the first Test between South Africa and New Zealand had to be called off for the same reason as well, and both these farces happened in August 2016.

Other than inclement weather, we seem to have gotten past the age of witnessing dull draws, with the Rajkot Test between India and England being a prime example of how even drawn Tests are rendering ample excitement.

Talks of batting teams scoring runs at an unwatchable pace and more Test matches ending in draws as a consequence, were put to bed in the early 2000s, when the all-conquering Australian side under Steve Waugh and thereafter under the ‘Punter’ too, set the trend of scoring at least 300-350 runs in a day, whether they were batting first or second. With their batting line-up boasting the likes of Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist, the pace at which that Australian side started scoring runs for Test match standards, was frightening at times.

The Adelaide Test between Australia and India in December 2003 is a classic example of Australia playing an aggressive brand of Test cricket, scoring runs at a really rapid rate and giving themselves every chance of getting a result in their favour. Aided by Ponting’s aggressive 176*, Australia reached a massive 400/5 at stumps on day one and by doing so, pushed India onto the back foot. Australia’s first innings run-rate was 4.37 and they made 556—Ponting finished with 242—in just 127 overs. To maintain your innings run-rate over four in an innings spanning well over a hundred overs is no mean feat!

*The most runs scored in a day in a Test match in the 21st century is 509 by Srilanka against Bangladesh at the PSS in July 2002.

India, trailing Australia by a whopping 556 in the first innings and having been reduced to 85/4, went on to win that Test match by four wickets (233/6) on the fifth day. Rahul Dravid was the architect of this remarkable Indian victory, with his 233 (first innings) and 72* (second innings) cancelling out Ponting’s 242 in Australia’s first innings. Ajit Agarkar’s 6-41 was crucial as well, in India bowling Australia out cheaply (196) in the second innings.  A four-day Test match might well struggle to produce such a contest and a result of this kind, too.

Ever since the early 2000s and the Aussies pioneered scoring quickly in Tests, aggressive opening batsmen such as Virender Sehwag (India), Tillakaratne Dilshan (Srilanka), Chris Gayle (West Indies), David Warner, etc. have emerged and Test cricket has only kept getting more exciting.

As a result, I really cannot fathom why Test matches have to be shortened from the present five to potential four days.

Four-day Test matches in the Sub-continent

I think if four-day Tests do get the green signal, they might not provide the desired outcome in the sub-continent. Spinners run the games for their teams in the sub-continent, bowling a greater number of overs than the fast bowlers and they are often the difference makers as well for their teams, in terms of winning and drawing a Test match.


Why Seamers Have Become an Inconsequential Commodity for Tests Played in India?

Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Rangana Herath, Yasir Shah, and Mehedi Hasan are all proven match-winners with the ball in the sub-continent while this article is being written.


What Sort of Test Pitches Has India Tended to Play on in Recent Times?

And, because spinners too, like the seamers, need an appreciable level of assistance from the pitch—either through the fast bowlers’ foot marks or the moisture on the pitch at the start of a Test drying out and allowing the ball to grip and turn—to affect proceedings for their teams, most Test matches in the sub-continent are unlikely to take off until day three at best. And so, unless the pitches are bone dry at the start of Test matches, not many Tests will produce results.

In overseas conditions, which are almost always perfect for the fast bowlers to thrive, days one and two of a Test match are far more important than days one and two of the Tests played in the sub-continent are. And, because Tests played in Australia, England, New Zealand, and South Africa, in particular, tend to have a lot more progression at the start, you will likely witness Tests played in the aforementioned countries produce a lot more results than those played in the sub-continent do.

Four-day Tests will also make life extremely difficult for touring teams, who invariably take and require the time to acclimatise themselves and adapt to the foreign pitches. So, rationally, you cannot expect the batting side, in particular, to play aggressively from the word go, just because the duration of the Test is only four days and the crowd needs to be entertained or has to come to go the ground in the first place. Batting aggressively cannot and ideally, should not be made the norm, in a format that is not entirely about attacking cricket or more precisely, attacking batsmanship.

Closing Thought

Patience, resilience, skill, and technique, in no particular order, are quintessential elements of Test cricket. And, from a spectator’s viewpoint, an exhibition of any of those four elements from a batsman or a bowler, has to be appreciated and admired, for therein lies the essence of Test cricket. Four-day Tests will likely make the batting side, in particular, feel coerced to be on the lookout for runs all the time and the essence of Test cricket will forcibly have been taken out.


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