Dubai: The takeaway from Virat Kohli’s prematch press conference in Guwahati on Saturday was, more than the T20 series at hand, his strong opposition to any form of tinkering with the Test matches. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has, in not so subtle manner, floated the idea of making Test matches a four-day affair from its next cycle in 2023 with a view to ‘free up’ space in it’s FTP calendar and streamline it (obviously with more emphasis on the white ball variety).
Well, it’s not the first time the Indian skipper and the most influential player in contemporary cricket has spoken about the sacrosanct nature of the five-day game as he feels — and he is not alone in this — that any such change may make the format prone to further tinkering. Mind you, Kohli did not shy away from saying at the Eden Gardens on the eve of pink ball Test that the day-night Tests should be considered more as one-off exercises than the norm despite all the hype and hoopla around a mismatched contest against Bangladesh.
Nathan Lyon, the leading Australian spinner, was even more vocal among the active cricketers to find the idea of a four-day Test ridiculous while former pace ace Glenn McGrath also joined the issue a few days back in Sydney.
“You look at all the big games around the world and some of the best Test matches I’ve been part of, they go down to the last day,” Lyon said, before adding: “You look at (Australia) against India at Adelaide in 2014, that went down to the last half-an-hour on day five. Then you look at Cape Town in 2014 as well, you look at that Test match where Ryan Harris bowled Morne Morkel with two overs to go, so that’s gone down to the last 10 minutes on day five. I’m not a fan of four-day Test matches.”
McGrath, who played a big hand in taking the Baggy Greens to several famous wins on the last day of a Test match during his 124 Test appearances, said: “To me, five days is very special and I’d hate to see it get any shorter. The introduction of pink Tests, day-night Tests is a great way to continue keeping our game fresh and moving forward. In respects to changing how many days it’s played, I’m actually against it. I like the way it is.”
The scenario, however, is not as simple so as it can rest solely on the emotions of the players — it’s more to do with the market dynamics. At least three of the major cricket boards in England, Australia and New Zealand are apparently ready to play ball — though the Indian board has been maintaining a wait-and-watch stance on this issue. There is no tearing hurry to reach at a decision regarding this, but the cold statistics seem to suggest that a truncated format for Tests certainly has a case and the ICC has done its homework.
Now for some number-crunching — altogether 349 Test matches have been played during a period of 10 years between 2010 and December 31, 2019 of which 149 Tests (42.7 per cent) spilt onto the fifth day while 140 of them were decided in four days and 58 of them in three days — thus an overall 57 per cent of the matches were actually wrapped up in below five days.
What has been even more alarming is another break-up provided in a major English daily in India. There is a quantum rise in the percentage of Tests not lasting till the fifth day over the last four years — from 38 per cent in 2016, the percentage has spiked to 67 per cent last year.
It’s certainly the commercial considerations which is playing heavy on the minds of the governing body of the game — as the extra days generated in the event of making Test matches shorter will not go towards keeping the players fresh — but shoehorn more limited overs contests which suits the TV mandarins and the advertisers. The other problem with cricket is it has been far too compliant with the whims and fancies of its member nations and there is a precedent of four-day Tests as well.
In 2017, at least two Tests — South Africa versus Zimbabwe and England versus Ireland were four-day contests — while one felt matches like the India-Afghanistan one which ended inside two days in 2018 could have done with a shorter format.
Can the romance of five-day contests still hold with its usual elements of the test of character on a wearing pitch on the fifth day or the breathless mandatory overs? Only time can tell!
Number of Tests played between 2010 and 2019
Matches went to five days (42.7%)
matches to four days
matches to three days
* 57% of the matches finished before fifth day.