Are four-day Tests really such a bad idea?

Blog Opinion

Colin Graves, the incoming chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, has spent the last month catapulting felines into a barrel full of columbidae. His latest foray into boat rocking has come from an interview that he actually gave 10 days back while in Dubai for the Champion County game.

Graves has suggested reducing the number of days for Test matches to four from the current five, and increasing the number of overs bowled to 105 a day rather than the 90 that we have right now.

Speaking to the MCC’s website Graves said; "Personally, I think we should look at four-day Test cricket and play 105 overs a day starting at 10.30am in the morning, and finish when you finish as all the grounds now have lights."

As ever, any change that is mooted to cricket's sacred cow of Tests is always met with outrage from many and dismay from others. Why change Tests, they are great just as they are. This is of course ignoring the fact that the current way Tests are played is less than 40 years old and that over the years Tests have been three, four, five and six day affairs, and of course ones that were timeless.

We are heading into an Ashes summer in England, a contest that still resonates well with those that are not day to day cricket fanatics. We will see sell-out crowds for all of those Tests, so, for the time being at least, the Ashes goose is still laying golden eggs.

With these bumper crowds it is understandable that people will suggest that Graves is trying to fix something that isn't broken. Maybe he is.

The issue is not necessarily that four day Tests are a great idea, it is that people are happy to dismiss any suggested innovation without discussion of its merits. We cannot complain about the staid nature of our cricket administration in England and then get cross when something new is suggested.

So, what do four day Tests have going for them? First and foremost they take less time. In an already ridiculously congested schedule reducing the time it takes to get a match in is no bad thing.

It could potentially give players more time off, allow for more county cricket for England's best players or even allow for a window for T20 with England player involvement. The four day Test won't create all that space, but it is a start.

The four day Test, every one starting on a Thursday, also solves the problem that many grounds have with trying to market the fifth day. As Graves said to the MCC; "From a cost point of view you'd lose that fifth day, which would save a hell of a lot of money from the ground’s point of view and the broadcasters."

Ticket prices are reduced and often refunded for day five, it is regularly during the working week and most Tests that aren't impacted by rain don't make it that far. Both the TV companies and counties would not miss day five.

Rather than thinking about the number of days, perhaps the way to look at it is the number of overs to be bowled. Under this scheme there are 105 overs in a day, 15 more than currently.

That means over the four days there are 420 scheduled overs rather than the 450 we have now. With the current playing conditions meaning players regularly walk off the field with overs unbowled we are pretty close to 420 now.

The issue here is one of over rates. A fair criticism of this plan is that players already struggle to bowl 90 overs, how long would it take them to get in 105. This assumes that 15 overs an hour is some unobtainable dream. It really shouldn't be.

Anyone who watches Test cricket will attest to how much time is wasted. If the current system of fines and bans isn't stopping the go slow, then different sanctions are needed, perhaps penalty runs. While something that could impact on the result isn't ideal, it may well solve the problem.

A more prosaic way to deal with the over rate issue is to lose time from breaks rather than from the end of play. Start the game at 11am, lunch is when 30 overs are bowled or 1pm, whichever is later. If the players go over then the break is shorter. Same with tea and the close. The fact that players are not getting the overs in shouldn't be a reason to discount a plan for four day Tests.

Another worry is the impact that this would have on bowlers. Some have suggested that the extra 90 balls in the day may destroy the careers of quick men. This seems a little far fetched, but it is worthy of discussion.

However, it's worth remembering that most Test innings, especially in England, don't last 100 overs. The day may last 105 overs, the time a bowler spends in the field may not.

The other set of bowlers to consider are the spinners. Would having one less day mean that the chances of them extracting turn decrease? Here it is worth noting that the number of overs is about the same so the wear should be similar.

You could even argue that if a pitch isn't turning enough to impact on the result on day four it probably won't do so on day five. The extra day baking in the sun may alter things, but not many Tests last into day five anyway, unless there has been rain.

Rain. The ever present issue that is always discussed when it comes to cricket in England. Here it is important to point out that with the drainage systems at Test grounds it is very unusual to lose a whole day's play, and if "it might rain" was used as a scheduling proviso there would be no cricket any summer.

I am not saying it will work, I am not convinced that it is a brilliant idea, but as Test cricket loses its relevance in a time poor age, we shouldn't be meeting attempts to modernise it with disapprobation.

Peter Miller