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4-day Test proposal divides opinion and irks purists, but is it the need of the hour?

In the last decade, out of a total 349 Test victories, 149 (47%) have been registered on the fifth day, while the remaining 200 have come within four days. In the last year itself, 67% of the Test matches were decided in four days or less.

The ICC is considering to slash one day out of the traditional five-day Test cricket in order to free up the international calendar, with the T20 format gaining more and more popularity, the mushrooming of domestic leagues across the world and national cricket boards requiring some free space for bilateral (even triangular or quadrangular) fixtures.

The cricket council will consider it for the 2023 Test Championship. However, it is not going to be an easy job, if at all.

The logic behind the proposal

The fundamental logic behind ICC's proposal of making four-day Test matches mandatory is to to free up more days in the international calender. Possibly, the council or individual boards are looking at another white-ball tournament.

In the last decade, out of a total 349 Test victories, 149 (47%) have been registered on the fifth day of the Test, while the remaining 200 have come within four days. In the last year itself, 67% of the Test matches were decided in four days or less.

What's more interesting is with the matches between stronger teams and the not so much, becoming a no contest more and more, the top teams have begun to lap up the matches quite quickly.

Australia won 56% of its Tests within four days or less in the last decade. The percentage for the same was 60% for India and 63% for England.

Cricket boards treading a cautious line

"We're definite proponents of the four-day Test concept, but cautiously so, as we understand it's an emotive topic for players, fans and others who have concerns about challenging the heritage of Test cricket, "an ECB spokesperson said. "We believe it could provide a sustainable solution to the complex scheduling needs and player workloads we face as a global sport."

"One of our top priorities is to underpin a healthy future for Test cricket while we continue to build accessible ways for new fans to enjoy our sport. We are strongly behind a thorough and considered consultation where all opinions are explored," the spokesperson concluded.

BCCI President, Sourav Ganguly, has reserved his judgement on the matter: “First we will have to see the proposal, let it come… It’s too early to say. Can’t comment just like this.” 

"It is something that we have got to seriously consider," Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts was the most assertive of the three. "It is something that can't be driven by emotion, but it needs to be driven by fact. We need to look at what's the average length of Test matches over the past five-ten years in terms of time and overs.

"We need to look at it very carefully and perhaps it is more likely than not in the mid-term future. What we absolutely will do is that over the next 12 to 18 months, is make sure the cricket calendar is nailed down for the years 2023 to 2031. What we are committed to doing is working with all the ICC members - nobody is saying it is easy but what we are doing is looking at it holistically and we are committed to doing that."

Players resisting the change, by and large

"We might not have got a result if we'd done that in the Ashes, I think every game went to a fifth day," Australia captain Tim Paine said, while rejecting the proposal. "That's the point of difference with Test cricket, it is five days, it's harder mentally, it's harder physically, and it tests players more than the four-day first-class fixtures do. I think that's what it's designed to do, so I hope it stays that way."

"I don't endorse that at all," Kohli said on January 4. "I don't think that is fair to the purest format of the game, how cricket started initially. Five-Day Test matches are the highest of Tests you can have at the international level. According to me, it shouldn't be altered.

"D/N Test is the most that should be changed about Test cricket according to me. I am purely only talking about getting the numbers in and the entertainment. The intent otherwise won't be right. Then you'll speak of three-day Tests, where do you end? Then you will speak of Test cricket disappearing .. D/N Test is another step on commercializing Test cricket and creating excitement around it but it can't be tinkered with too much," the Indian skipper opined.

One of the greatest pace bowlers to have played the game, Glenn McGrath agrees with Kohli, "I'm very much a traditionalist I like the game the way it is. 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 its played, I'm actually against it. I like the way it is."

Joe Root was the most open on the matter among the so-called 'Big Three' skippers: "Whether that's across the board or can it be flexible - we've obviously played one against Ireland. I'm sure that pitch would've been fit for a three-day game. I think it's worth trialing. I do think it's worth trialing and it might not always make sense for England to play especially if its against Australia or some of the bigger sides but it might draw a bit more interest with some of the countries who struggle to get people in the ground."

Modern day great, Sachin Tendulkar also was not inclined for the experiment.

"Spinners look forward to bowling with the scuffed ball, taking advantage of day five of the roughs created on the wicket. All that is a part of Test cricket. Is it fair to take that advantage away from the spinners," Sachin said.

"There is T20, there is one-dayers and then there are T10 and 100-ball cricket. The test is the purest form of cricket. It should not be tinkered with," he added.

Bottom line

Four-day Test cricket is certainly worth considering but not as a blanket move. It can be implemented selectively like in the match between England and Ireland or the one between South Africa and Zimbabwe, with consideration of the playing conditions and the skill gap between the oppositions.

Most of the top-drawer series between the big nations are generally competitive, with results coming on the last day, sometimes the last session. One understands the broadcasting realities and the pull of serving entertainment to the lowest common denominator, but even then, to implement it across the board is being unfair to the traditional format of the game, and its ebbs and flows.

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