Is it time to turn back the clock and reintroduce timeless tests?

If you thought pink balls and floodlights were revolutionary and callous then a timeless Test must be rather romantic, no? Since 1939, Test cricket has been a 5-day affair with a match concluding when one side is bowled out, chases down a set target or when neither side can muster the strength or skill to produce a positive result. However, with the advent of a Test Championship on the horizon, cricket’s governing body are looking into all the viable options available to produce a Test Champion and rule out the possibility of a draw.

ICC’s chief executive Haroon Lorgat has revealed that the possibility of a timeless Test is “work in progress”. How much we can read into that, I don’t know, but I believe it’s important to look at some of the pros and cons of such a nostalgic, yet radical idea.

Not too many of us were alive when the final timeless Test took place in Durban in 1939. The match was played over a 12-day period, with 9 days of play spread out over that timeframe. The match finally ended as a draw after the English team had to catch their boat home. Laughable now, but back then such issues played a part in the longevity of a Test match. Whilst that isn’t one of the factors that will be brought up in discussion in the various board meetings the ICC will inevitably have, there are naturally some clouds having over the proposal.

Firstly, one thing of major importance is the pitch. Lorgat has suggested that Lord’s is the favoured host for the match, which would presumably take place in June or July 2013, a year that England also host the Ashes. In recent years, Lord’s has hardly been a bunsen burner. Wickets have been hard to come by, especially after the first day, and the result has all too often been a draw. Matches against Sri Lanka in 2006 and South Africa in 2009 are at the forefront of my memory. The ICC would have to ensure that the Lord’s curator produced a wicket that would be favourable for competitive, fair Test cricket that would be guaranteed to produce a result. The last thing you want is a Championship final that drags out over seven or eight days and displays slow, turgid cricket.

The second factor is the willingness of supporters to turn out for the 6th or 7th day of a Test match when a result is far from clear. Ticket prices are already high and crowds are low, so something would have to give in order to get the ground filled. Ticket prices would have to be reduced dramatically for the latter days of the Test, a formula that is continuously employed anyway. However, even with discounts and reductions, the prospect of a six of seven-day Test would inevitably clash with working days. Therefore, the expectation of a near capacity crowd on each of the days is fairly unrealistic. Add to that the inclement weather we endure day-in-day-out in this country and you have a problem. Say it rains for the first four days, thus erasing the prospect of play on the weekend (the most profitable time for Test cricket) and forcing the match to take place mid-week; for the working public, their chances of seeing a ball bowled are very slim. The margins will not be met.

Finally, how would the players feel about bowling an extra 15 overs each and spending another 120 overs in the field? Cricketers work hard enough as it is these days; packed schedules, grueling conditions, flat pitches. Do they want their workload considerably increased, and that in an Ashes season? It is therefore doubtless that rotation policies would be employed by team coaches, perhaps giving the far-from-ideal preparation for a side, like England, entering a vital series against arch enemies Australia.

On the contrary to all the cons of a timeless Test, the obvious positive is the guarantee of a positive result. One team will win and will be crowned Test champions. A lot of us have been crying out for a Test league or division that gives teams the chance to lift a meaningful trophy. The motivation factor and the reward at the end would surely make for fierce competition and excellent Test cricket, something we severely lack with the current structure of the 5-day game. Moreover, it gives the younger, less well-known Test cricketers around the world the chance to perform in front of a potential full-house at some of the best stadia in world cricket. For the players of West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, the presence of hundreds of tv cameras, journalists and thousands of supporters is not an experience they will have been exposed to too much in the past.

The proposal may also act as the ideal regenerator for a format of cricket that has been floundering in the last four or five years. Talk of Test cricket being closed down and abandoned may be quashed under the intensity and prestige of a Test Championship. Players like Chris Gayle, who have turned their back on whites in the past, may be convinced that the future of Tests is a sustainable one if a competition like this provides all the hype and attitude of Twenty20.

George Curtis

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