Four Day Tests – The Case For and Against

Adrian Meredith weighs up the cases for and against Four Day Tests.

Given the PR campaign they are mounting to convince people to embrace it, the ICC appear determined to introduce Four Day Tests to ease congestion in the international calendar. The problem is that, so far at least, they are failing badly to turn public opinion. In fact, they have been successful only in mobilising opposition to the cause with a multitude of players dismissing the idea and, to date, no major players supporting it. So I thought to look at it and weigh it up fairly, as pass judgement on whether it is a good idea or not.

Cricinfo explained the pluses of 4-day tests in this YouTube video:

(1) 60% of Test Matches end in 4 days or less anyway
(2) With Four Day Tests, we can have the matches on Thursday-Sunday every week so more people can see it live
(3) There will be a more consistent 3-day break between Tests
(4) They have more spare time between Tests to either play ODIs, T20Is or even… more Tests!
(5) It will make more money for cricket officials
(6) It will cost less money to pay for hotels

Or, put simply, it’s all about the money!

The claim that it is traditional to play Five Day Tests is a little bit dishonest. After all, until the mid-1950s (just 65 years ago, which is a short period compared to the 143 years of Test cricket, and the 300+ years of cricket as a whole) there was no consistent duration to Test Matches. Prior to this Tests could be timeless, three four or five days in length.

The problem with that argument is that there are other rules about cricket that are relatively new too, but that doesn’t justify removing them:

(1) They have only covered pitches for the past 45 years or so
(2) We have only had six ball overs for the past 40 years
(3) Cricket players have only been paid a living wage for the past 35 years
(4) We have only had neutral umpires for the past 25 years
(5) We have only had DRS for the past 15 years

So the fact that we have only had Five Day Tests consistently for 65 years as justification for being allowed to remove them is silly.

Take a walk down memory lane to the night English hearts were broken at the Gabba.

It used to be that there were Three Day Tests but… that was a time when many Tests ended in a day and a half, as those were times when pitches weren’t covered when it rained and scores were a lot lower. Nowadays, pitches are much easier to bat on and so there is no comparison.

The fact that only 60% of Tests end in under four days means that 40% of matches that would otherwise have a result will now end in draws. 40% more draws. Let that sink in for a moment.

Draws are bad for the game. We want to avoid draws. In the mid-1980s, Test cricket had a lot of draws. This is mainly because India, Pakistan and Australia were not very good at Tests and liked to draw matches if there was any chance of a loss. Thankfully, we collectively got over that idea and started to increase run rates, we declared innings to set up results and generally took bigger risks, but Four Day Tests might see a return for that.

Personally, I like the idea of timeless Tests and I think that we should look at scheduling them occasionally. Perhaps once per year the two best teams could play a timeless Test for the world championship.

As for Five Day Tests, no, we haven’t always had that many days, but we settled on that length because it is perfect. It means a bit over one day per innings, and it means that if there is a bit of rain we can still usually get a result.

40% more draws will not help test cricket.

While it is nice that we can all go to the cricket on days three and four if they are always on Saturdays and Sundays, there is also an argument towards having cricket be on different days. I like having cricket on while I’m at work and listening to it in the background, checking scores during a lunch break, and so forth. If it was always on Thursday-Sunday then it could become boring and predictable.

I remember when Australian Rules Football started having rivalry rounds, where they guaranteed that two teams with a rivalry would play each other twice. Soon they had a schedule that was all about making money and had nothing to do with fairness, so if one part of the rivalry was weak then the other part had two easy games, and it skews the season. I would hate to see that happen to cricket.

Check out Adrian Meredith’s World XI Test Team of the Decade (2010-19).

It’s bad enough that we have these stupid Two Test series just so that we can say that we are playing each other, and the World Test Championship points system is clearly favouring pointless matches. This is terrible for the game, but at least we can still ignore that and enjoy the good matches. If we had Four Day Tests, then it would suck the life out of Test cricket, and I think that viewers would go down.

What cricket fans want is more tradition, not less. We are happy to see some things change, like DRS and neutral umpires, because they were problems in the game that we are fixing. Four Day Tests is not resolving any problems at all – it is causing them.

T20 cricket is thriving, which is great, but so is Test cricket. ODI cricket is struggling so badly that it may soon be abandoned as a format, and that might be a good thing. But sabotaging Tests, the pinnacle of cricket, just to make a bit more money, is just sickening.

I would love to see us stay with Five Day Tests, and to add in a timeless Test, perhaps one per year, maybe 10 days maximum duration, just for the final of the World Test Championship, or however they want to determine the top two.

Please, let’s get rid of the idea of Four Day Tests once and for all.

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