Four Day Test Cricket. What For?

F

Hello. And welcome to a new look TFT. I hope you like it. I’ve still got some playing around to do but the basics are all in place.

Why the change? It’s because I wanted a site that’s (a) simpler and easier to read (b) prioritises written content above everything else, and (c) uploads faster. Plus, if I’m being honest, finding suitable images to use was proving increasingly hard and time consuming. The new look site focuses on the text alone. And that’s the way it should be.

There are two things I wanted to talk about today. The first is Moeen Ali’s sensational century in the ODI at Bristol. Talk about destructive. His first thirty odd runs came at a relatively sedate run a ball … and then he went completely bananas and scored an incredible 61 off his next 14 balls! That’s absolutely insane when you think about it.

The great thing about Moeen’s hitting is that it looks so easy. He’s so fluent that he hardly seems to be breaking sweat. When guys like Aaron Finch score quick runs it’s a real macho effort. It’s the product of hours in the gym building muscle. Mo is the complete opposite. He just swings languidly and the ball disappears into the stands.

Most modern batsmen are like Vikings bludgeoning the opposition with a battle-axe. By contrast Moeen is like a skilled swordsman fencing with a rapier. It’s elegance personified … and England supporters are beginning to love him more and more every day. Is he the most popular cricketer in the country? I think he probably is.

The next thing on the agenda is the ECB’s apparent determination to press ahead with four-day test cricket – something I see as a complete betrayal of the sport. I’m absolutely seething to be honest with you. I cannot believe that the ECB wants to violate the purist form of the game like this. They’re supposed to be custodians of test cricket. Instead they’re turning into butchers.

Test cricket has been around for decades. It’s an institution. And it’s not broken. The only thing that’s problematic is a lack of context for matches … something a world test championship would easily solve. Am I wrong? Falling attendances at test matches worldwide (a problem we fortunately don’t have in England) will not be solved by dispensing with the fifth day. Reducing games to four days just makes bore draws more likely.

What’s more, increasing the number of overs bowled during a day will just make life more demanding for players and spectators alike. If kids thought watching 90 overs in a day was tough, just wait until they have to watch 100 or more! And I thought the ECB was determined to make the game more accessible to young children. Doesn’t look like it to me.

Generally when the benefits of an idea aren’t immediately obvious, it’s because the benefits are minimal … or aren’t actually benefits at all. Good ideas usually leap off the page and soon generate a consensus. The concept of four-day test-cricket, on the other hand, just seems random and rash. And it’s going down like a lead balloon with most cricket followers.

What really bugs me is the timing of all this. Is it really a coincidence that the ECB want to shave a day off test cricket at the precise moment they’re trying to shoehorn another bad idea – Harrison’s harebrained city T20 have a hit – into the calendar? Personally I suspect not. The move towards four-day test cricket looks suspiciously like an attempt to milk the T20 sow even further … even though it means sacrificing decades of tradition.

As with most things the ECB do, it all seems to come down to money. Games that are scheduled to last five days but ultimately don’t frequently register a loss. TV broadcasters also get a little twitchy. However, sports should not and cannot be governed by financial considerations alone. Would they shave 15 minutes off a football match if it was more profitable? I don’t think so. And I doubt they’d shave three holes off St Andrews if the golf broadcasters asked them to. Some things are sacred … and test cricket is one of them.

The idea that few test matches reach the fifth day is entirely bogus too. In fact, ever so slightly more test matches are going the distance now (58.3% as opposed to 58.2%) than they were ten years ago according to the Telegraph. The bottom line is this: if more than half of test matches are reaching the fifth day, then I’d argue vociferously that fifth days are an integral and vital part of modern day test cricket. To argue otherwise would be disingenuous and insane.

I guess the debate can be summarised thus. If there was one good cricketing reason for the implementation of four-day tests then Harrison and Graves would tell us. They’d be shouting it from the mountaintops. The fact that they’re saying very little says everything in my book. All we’re getting are vague justifications surrounding scheduling, broadcasting, and player welfare.

The latter reason really grinds my gears. If the ECB really cared about player welfare they wouldn’t be squeezing five test matches against India into a seven-week period next summer. And they wouldn’t be trying to squeeze yet another T20 tournament into the summer calendar either.

James Morgan

23 comments

  • The four day smokescreen is pandering to the players I suspect. Anything to make the tedium of Test cricket a bit more palatable and free up more time cash generating schemes. What I have wondered for a while is about the structure of cricket, how much power the ECB has and is there any way they can be brought down by a coup. It would have to be led with some people with balls like at Durham and Essex. It may be of course that the constitution makes them unassailable but it it time for a revolution comrades!

    • According to Nick Hoult in the Telegraph the players are generally sceptical about moving to 4 day tests. I’m sure the idea of spending an extra hour in the field in 40 degree heat in Sri Lanka terrifies them.

      So if the fans don’t want it. And neither do the players. Who exactly does? It’s surely got to be about money … again.

  • What a great idea 4 day tests are! The 5th day at Headingley was awful! (please read this with your sarcometer on maximum).

    Is Mo the most popular cricketer in England? Possibly, but not probably (I suspect it’s Stokes). He’s certainly one of the first names on the teamsheet (along with Stokes again) in both tests and ODI’s (you’d hope in t20’s too). Wonder if he’ll be offered (and take up) an IPL slot?

    • Perhaps not Stokes for now…
      “…a 26-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm. Stokes reportedly injured his hand during the confrontation….”

  • They’re going to introduce this by salami-slicing tactics. Elizabeth Ammon wrote in yesterday’s Times that the decision will be left with individual boards. This will leave poorer boards playing four-day Tests so they can cram in some more one-dayers. This will be passed off as “choice” and useful idiots will proclaim it’s their fault for not valuing Tests enough. SA are already planning a four-day match against Zimbabwe and only await the ICC to award the match Test status. This is when poorer nations play any Tests at all because, as Tim Wigmore pointed out in yesterday’s Guardian, NZ have hardly any Tests scheduled for the foreseeable future (not that it will stop the B3 trumpetting that Root/Kohli/Smith has scored the most runs in the next x number of months and not considering why Williamson can never hold such records).

    I suspect all non-B3 Tests will be four-days very quickly. Perhaps other sports will follow where cricket is boldly leading? Football matches can finish at 75 minutes if your wallet’s too thin? Golf rounds stop at the 15th if you don’t have enough dosh? No five-set tennis matches for the impoverished?

    Really, if the ECB is headed by the chief of Costcutter and CA by the head of Rio Tinto who could be surprised this is where we’re at? Sport has been taken over by turbo-capitalists and they’re killing everything of value in it like they’ve done with modern cinema and music.

  • Traditional cricket to me is unique! By traditional cricket I mean the County Championship and Tests. Over a number of days, two teams are not only battling each other but also the pitch,the weather conditions and the ball. The endless combinations of these which affect a result render this sport unique and totally absorbing. T20, 50 overs, day-nighters etc to me are not cricket but a money-making hybrids degrading player’s ability to perform in the CC and Test matches.

    It is encumbent upon those entrusted with preserving this great game to resist any attempt to change the Test format.

  • Just one point here, before we lose touch with reality. Cricket reflects the times more than any other sport, as it matches are longer and involve more aspects of a players character. There has never been A tradition, only an ever evolving number of them.
    To me it makes perfect sense, with County and Sheffield Shield games over 4 days, both considered to be the breeding grounds for test players. It should produce more interesting results, with declarations playing an increasing tactical role, (I know this is seen as artificial by many) rather than one side batting for 2 days and killing the game. Captaincy will become increasingly important as letting games drift, which has happened a lot in the past with England, becomes a less viable option. I am a great advocate of the Dermot Reeve, ‘every ball is an event’ philosophy. This would become more relevant in a shorter game. Also, with less wear and tear for the pitch the toss will play less of a key role, no cheap wickets on day 5.
    The main negative for me in this country is the weather. How often do we get 5 consecutive full days play in a summer? If one of the days is lost in a 4 day fixture it makes any result manufactured.
    I am aware it makes more room for white ball games in the fixture list, but they are more popular with the public and greater money-spinners. It may dumb down the long game, but professional sport is supposed to be an entertainment, not some esoteric side show, appreciated only by the cognicentee.
    With all the competition for people’s leisure time these days, cricket, like it or loathe it, has to adapt or die. As in all walks of life, every generation’s nostalgia is becoming increasingly short lived.

    • Take on board everything you say but cricket has evolved to cater for the ‘non-cognoscenti’ leaving the CC and 5-day Tests for those that appreciate the finer points. As I’m writing this, it sounds extremely elitist and is certainly not meant to be. If T20, 50 overs etc please the many fans who love this format then that is marvellous. My (badly-made!) point is why should the powers that be tinker with the 5-day test format loved by so many?

    • The problem with test and first class cricket is context and marketing. As products they’re perfectly fine imho.

      I still don’t personally see how a 4 day contest is better. Far fewer people watch the championship even though it’s 4 days compared to 5. I’m not sure that an increased number of declarations improves the games either or makes them more strategic. Pacing an innings slowly, for example, batting time or defending for long periods, adds variety and therefore tactical complexity. Speeding things up doesn’t guarantee a contest will be more enthralling. Are all 90 minute movies better than 3 hour epics like Apocalyse Now or The Godfather?

      I also disagree that cricket necessarily has to change because of technology / modern life etc. I’ve always regarded this as a fallacy. The Tour de France goes on for over 20 days but it’s more popular in the U.K. now than it has ever been. NFL goes on for over 3 hours (compared to footballs 90 mins) yet it’s growing massively in popularity over here. Pop songs used to be shorter in the 1960s than they are now. Bohemian Rhapsody resonates like any 3 minute track.

      At the end of the day it comes down to quality not length, and I don’t see how shortening test cricket (by ironically lengthening each day) will increase the quality of the product. I’m just not convinced that the cricketing reasons add up. Plus, of course, cricket already has its shorter versions.

      • Gotcha! A Hendrix, Clapton, Alvin Lee solo alone would be longer than 3 minutes but those were the days when musical skill/quality would draw people in. Now the record companies have reclaimed control and the low cost, here today gone tomorrow tat is back. All about money.

        Love it that geniuses like Van Morrison, Chris Farlowe, Buddy Guy and probably The Stones are still going. No board telling them what to do.

        • I am not a great fan of modern musical trends, but there is a very strong independent streak producing much of what goes on today. The influence of major record labels has long since passed. Very few bands are tied into contracts requiring them to churn out more of the same in persist of cash.
          Whilst I would totally agree that musicianship is in serious decline, it requiring sustained practice behind the scenes. It has been replaced by performance, largely vocal and based on urban American black culture. It is more relevant to everyday life then the mystical rantings of the hippy generation c/o; Floyd, Yes, Genesis etc. Which incidentally I am not aversed to.
          It is wrong to assume the instant celebrity of talent show winners has seduced modern day performers. Most are contemptuous of it.
          Downloading has certainly made more music more accessible.
          Personally I hate old rock bands, they don’t have the edge that made them special in their time, as they take refuge in churning out nostalgia for a new generation; The Stones, Zeppelin, Purple, Etc. typify this for me. None of them are better now than before.
          Ideally you need to die young ; Hendrix, Joplin, Kossoff, Alex Harvey, Kevin Ayres, Nick Drake etc to be immortalised in people’s memories. Suffer for your art and be consumed by it.
          If you want to keep going you need to keep exploring new avenues, even if it means alienating fans. Then it’s not about money.

      • As a movie buff I would say generally 90 minute films are better than 2-3 hour bloated modern dayers. If you can’t tell a story in 90 minutes that extra half hour we get as a matter of course these days rarely contributes much. Why is it almost no films from the last 50 years make it into the classic hall of fame? Directors do not learn their trade as thoroughly outside the studio system, where they were forced to take allocated contract work and make the best of it if they wanted to further their career’s. Coppolla, Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg; all have an uneven body of work, that would have benefitted from this greater discipline. I would venture to say ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’ would both benefit from the more self indulgent scenes being shortened.
        As to the NFL, I would dispute any claim it has widespread popularity over here. When channel 4 first broadcast it in the 1980’s it developed a huge following, but once the novelty wore off this fell away sharply and has never recovered.
        As to the length of pop songs, there’s little different today from the widely accepted 3 minutes formula. I am subjected to Radio 1 all day at work and I have noticed no obvious lengthening of songs, outside of gangster rap. Bohemian Rhapsody is again a glaring exception.
        All professional sport changes expectations with changes in lifestyle each generation. The people playing it and running it reflect this constantly. Just listen to any retired player reminiscing about their careers with ‘This couldn’t happen now’.
        I don’t understand the almost hysterical reaction to making test cricket subject to the same conditions as county cricket. Quality is popularity here, everything else is unsustainable, however unpalatable that may sound. This is why the grumpy old man syndrome is so commonplace. I am a fully paid up member here.

    • “with less wear and tear for the pitch the toss will play less of a key role”.

      I can’t see any logical basis for this claim at all. Too many recent Tests have given excessive importance to the toss and, with groundsmen under pressure to produce pitches that give a result in four days, I can’t see how this would make that less so. I think Tests may have to go the way of the CC and scrap the toss.

      “before we lose touch with reality”.

      Standing up for something we value is not losing touch with reality. Cricket should be able to use the more profitable formats of the game to subsidise the less profitable (and get more inverntive about making the less-profitable more arrtractive – like introducing a Test championship and improving over rates). This is only a problem for free-market fundamentalists who think profit maximisation is the be all and end all. They dress end dress up old-fashioned greed as progressivism and being with the times. Plenty of people have extensive leisure-time these days and will invest it in a slowly-unfurling narrative if that is made attractive and accessible. Test cricket is like a quality boxset and T20 like a wannabe Hollywood blockbuster (and it is the latter that is seeing audiences decline).

      • T20 will burst soon enough, again.. of that I have no doubt.

        What people seem to forget is centric to all this is the amateur game which is in terminal decline. The games are moving to limited over win lose stuff and getting shorter and yet people leave quicker .. I’m not sure anyone here gives two hoots about amateur cricket which is where most people take part in the game.

        For every amateur youmlose you lose a cricket fan.. you lose someone to buy kit.. you lose a sky subscriber potentially…

        It’s so relevant but everyone just ignores amateur cricket. Tbh, pro stuff is so far removed from 99% that it’s kind of just poitnless now

      • It means if you win the toss on a pitch you know is not going to last you bat first. We are all aware batting on day 5 is usually much more difficult as footholds from follow through’s come into play on top of variable bounce. Easy pickings for bowlers. Remember the Ritchie Beneaud quote for test match captains; ‘if you win the toss, think about fielding, then bat’.
        The ‘we’ in ‘we value’ is only relevant in professional sport if it is a strong lobby. This requires mass public support. I see no evidence of this. What do we see from a test match audience these days. Beer snakes, fancy dress and chanting. A lot of this having nothing to do with the cricket. At Edgbaston against the Windies, when we were dominating, the loudest applause was reserved for a large section of the crowd trying to get their beach balls back from the ground staff.
        Most of the profits from test and white ball cricket are used to subsidise projects for youth cricket, so the more you can make the more accessible cricket becomes for future generations. It is not profiteering, it is looking after the game in general, as it becomes increasingly submerged in a welter of other sports all vying for attention. This has to be a good thing. I’d rather it was used this way than one form of cricket subsidising another.
        Anyone with kids these days knows attention spans are deteriorating, and have been for some time. Slowly unfurling narratives are a thing of the past for them, no matter how you try and package it. Box sets are liberally sprinkled with increasingly unrealistic mini climaxes to offset their length, how do we do this with a test match?

    • Cricket will die the shorter it keeps going, of that I have no doubt. It’s losing it’s basic skills and essentially being played no on roads and simply a game of ‘who hits the most wins’ . It is genuinely boring to watch th same game (All limited overs) players drive after time. Might as well jus get bowling machines and just slug it out.

      Meh, personally I love the game but am starting to lose interest due to white ball slogging. Each game is identical pretty much and the ‘fans’ are generally corporate beer heads. Disinterested in the actual cricket

  • Sad to see people enjoy these one sided slog fests. Such a Boring actual game of cricket. No wonder cricket is dying with one sided results

  • Did anyone hear the TMS discussion on this yesterday? I probably didn’t catch it all but I did hear Graham Swann (who I usually find very irritating on TMS, I’m afraid) and he made two excellent points.
    1. 4-day tests even further reduce the role of the spinner as it’s often 5th day pitches that bring them to the fore.
    2. This is presumably being done purely for the sponsors and the TV companies and the day that cricket sells out completely to those guys with no thought to the fans and players is a very bad day indeed for cricket.
    I would add another point which needless to say no one on TMS made:
    If there are only 4 days cricket, I assume the grounds will charge more per ticket to make up for the possible loss of revenue from a 5th day. Another blow for the spectators. (I say ‘needless to say’ as I don’t suppose any of them ever have to find the money for a ticket so it might not be something they think about.)

    Like the new website but a little plea for us oldies, don’t suppose you could make the font size a bit bigger could you?!

  • The chief executive of the South Australian Cricket Association made a statement back in 2015 (responding I think to comments from Mark Taylor, former Australian captain, who you would have thought would know better, supporting 4 day test cricket) “I can see many, many benefits of four-day Test cricket, and not a lot of downside.” I was prompted to write on a loosely similar forum to this one the following, which doesn’t seem much less valid now (to me anyway!)

    Let me help on the downsides – you don’t necessarily get much play on the Sunday [the proposal was start each Test on a Thursday, finish on a Sunday, because being able to see the match draw to its conclusion on Sunday would draw the biggest crowd]. How many overs per day do you propose? If it’s less than 112.5, then there’s less time in the match than now. At that number of overs, you’re talking probably a 9.5 hour day (4 x 2 hour sessions, breaks for at least an hour, probably more, and any balance as overtime to get the overs in, even though some is built in already to the 4th 2 hour session) – so either you’re starting pretty early, with potential influence from dew on the ground, or finishing pretty late, with light issues [this was before day night tests – the jury on which is still out in my view]. Very long days like that simply must affect the standard of play. You see it now that the game winds down in the 3rd session of a warm day. How do you think it will be in the 4th session? It certainly won’t encourage fast bowlers. And the absence of a fifth day will mean less deterioration in the pitch, so less encouragement for spinners to attack. There’s likely to be a trend to more defensive and attritional medium pace and defensive spin bowling.
    And frankly, if you can’t recognise those as at least potential issues, you have no business being involved in cricket administration.

    • From watching test cricket in recent years I wouldn’t say there have been many bowlers of any description capable of or willing to bowl defensive spells. McGrath was almost a freak. Indeed a main cause for concern about modern bowlers is their inability to get through an over without bowling a 4 ball. Attritional cricket in test matches seems to be a thing of the past, if only because of this lack of consistency. Which test team has 2 reliable line and length bowlers?

  • What’s the ECB’s idea ? This will just result in more draws. I suppose that if the players know that the likely outcome is a draw then they can take it easy and save themselves for the white ball games. This would seem to be how the ECB sees the future of the game.

  • Sheer stupidity! Test cricket is meant to be a 5-day game… 4 days of 100 overs still doesn’t make it the same… we’re still losing 50 overs and putting careers on the line.. already its tough for the genuine fast bowlers to stay on the field for 90 overs.. imagine asking your spearhead to bowl another spell after being on the field for 3 days of 100 overs!

By James Morgan

Like Us On Facebook

Follow Us On Twitter

Subscribe (It’s Free)

Hire James

copywriter london kent tunbridge wells

I'm a freelance writer and marketing copywriter based near London. Click the image to see my professional website. Thanks.

Pages

Creative Advertising & Strategy

Creative Advertising & Strategy