Should we allow injury substitutes in Test Cricket?

In the Test Match between Australia and New Zealand at Perth Stadium, we had two injuries, one per side, that could have potentially changed the result. Since it is one per side, it probably didn’t make any difference, other than delaying the result, since they were both bowlers, but it isn’t always like that. Most of the time, it is only one side who has the injury, and sometimes the same side has two or more injuries. The question is whether we should allow injury substitutes in test matches.

There is no major issue in T20 matches, or even ODI’s, where you can usually cover someone who gets injured. In most ODIs, only 9 or 10 players are really used on any given day, and if one gets injured then you can usually cover for them fairly easily. In T20 matches, a team with just two or three good players can win matches, as so few players are properly utilised on any given day. But in the test format, the elite form of the game, we need every single player that there is.

When New Zealand fast bowler Lockie Ferguson fell down injured early on Day 1, it looked like costing New Zealand the match. While he might not be their best bowler, it would have made such a big difference if they had been able to call on one of their reserves, such as perhaps Matt Henry. It would still have hurt the side, but at least it wouldn’t be quite so devastating.

For Australia, the injury happened later in the contest, when Josh Hazlewood was unable to complete a delivery due to a hamstring issue. It won’t cost Australia the match, but it certainly makes it tougher. If Ferguson wasn’t also injured for New Zealand, this would have been much more costly. With James Pattinson and Michael Neser in the side, either of them could have come in to take his place.

In this circumstance, it would seem fair to do replacements, perhaps Matt Henry coming in for Lockie Ferguson and perhaps James Pattinson coming in for Josh Hazlewood. The match would be fairer, and we wouldn’t have this awkward situation of playing 10 vs 11, or, later on, 10 vs 10.

We are now allowing concussion substitutes, as seen in the Ashes, when Marnus Labuschagne came in to replace the injured Steve Smith, and that was a good result. Labuschagne was a lot worse than Smith, especially in the form Smith was in at that point (though right now Labuschagne is batting better than Smith) but it was still a lot fairer than Australia being a batsman short just because Jofra Archer happened to hit him on the head with a bouncer.

The problem is that Test Matches are five days long and it is a test of each player’s endurance that they are able to cope with the full five days of cricket. What if a player simply gets tired? Are they allowed to have a substitute just because they get tired? Could we have players who are only fit enough for three days being replaced half-way through? That is the problem.

Some players, such as Lasith Malinga, retired from test cricket because he wasn’t fit enough to last for five days. The same was true of Australia’s own former fast bowler Shaun Tait, who was wonderful in T20s and ODIs, but just lacked the stamina to cope in a test match.

It would be completely unfair if a bowler like Lasith Malinga or Shaun Tait were able to play in a test match, go full-ball for two or three days, then get replaced by someone else who was fitter. Malinga and Tait were far better bowlers than the test bowlers, but lacked the stamina. If we allowed players to be replaced simply by being unfit, then we would have those kinds of players being brought in.

Similarly, if there is a batsman who is perhaps a bit overweight, who can smash a big century on Day 1, is unable to field too well, and too sick to come in to bat in the second innings, then they wouldn’t normally be able to play tests. Such players used to be commonplace back before fielding was relevant, but nowadays they are far less common. West Indian batsman Rakheem Cornwall is perhaps the fattest test cricketer ever to play for West Indies, and he has somehow managed to last 2 tests, but he would probably cope better if he knew he could be play for three days and then be replaced. Luckily, he is a bowler, so the strain isn’t as much.

If we were to limit it to one substitute, then what if two players are injured? In 1999, Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie collided while trying to take a catch, taking Australia from 11 players to 9. Surely it’d be fair to be able to replace both.

And what about when India toured West Indies in 1976 and were met with a barrage of bouncers and up to 5 players were injured through bouncers? It would have been fairer to have allowed 5 substitutes then.

If we allowed one substitute, then it could become like the trialled “super sub”, which was a total disaster as it gave a huge advantage to the team that won the toss. While that was only ever used in ODI cricket (in 2005), and it might be better in Tests, it might not be either.

The correct way to do it is to allow someone independent from each team to decide if a player is genuinely injured. It’d be obvious if they collided with another player or were hit with a bouncer, but issues like what hit Josh Hazlewood and Lockie Ferguson, both of which were potentially injuries that they carried into the match, may not be valid.

Just the same, it really hurt England’s Ashes campaign when James Anderson broke down in the second over of the match, and could not bowl again, and, carried injury or not, it seemed to be terribly unfair that they couldn’t bring someone else in, such as a Jofra Archer. He certainly felt like he could make all 5 days.

The concussion substitute trial clearly needs to be the precursor to a potential injury substitute, and, if that works, which it seems to be so far, then perhaps we should trial having it for other kinds of injuries as well.

In association football (soccer), they allow substitutes, but once a player is removed then they can never play again, and that does seem to be genuinely fair, and perhaps they could allow that in cricket too. If we allow unlimited substitutes, and without the ridiculous restrictions in the ODI super sub era, then perhaps it can be fair.

But how would we feel if we started off with 11 players and ended the test with 11 entirely different players? It’d probably never happen to that extent, but, if it did, it’d certainly confuse a lot of records.

For me, it is something we should consider, but perhaps after we have seen how the concussion substitute trial has worked. If that can’t work, then an injury substitute rule can’t work either. But if it can, then perhaps we can have it, and then we could have substitutes when bowlers break down and when batsmen get injured.

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