When the International Cricket Council’s decision to experiment with four-day Test matches was announced, it was unsurprising to see it met with a hostile reaction, despite their insistence that it is just a trial.
The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) were quick to condemn the move, as was South Africa’s current Test captain Francois du Plessis, whose side will be coming up against Zimbabwe in what will be the first-ever four-day Test.
The change comes at a transition period in the sport, but it is one which is certainly much needed. In the winter of 2015, Australia and New Zealand contested the first day-night Test match in an effort to allow fans to join the evening session after work, in a successful trial that has now been replicated in the UAE and England. Then, last week, a new Test Championship system was proposed, which will add some much-needed context to the game: for casual fans especially, endless bilateral Test series are only so relevant.
Whilst to a traditionalist like myself these changes might seem overbearing, unfortunately I feel there was no other choice, for the sport needs modernising.
Even in countries such as India where support for the game has been unrivalled, attendances at Test matches has been on the decline. Moreover, many Test matches these days are now heavily one sided and there is a clear gulf in quality among the Test sides – India, England, South Africa and Australia tend to dominate the rest, and series wins away from home are increasingly rare.
Some would, of course, put this down to the unfair revenue distribution system which is still no nearer to being adapted. The disparity between funds available to the ‘Big Three’ Test nations and those at the bottom of the pecking order is vast, but this is a problem without a short-term solution: the ICC is right to focus on something that it can materially change instantly. The statistics show that fewer Test matches go to the fifth day than ever before – only two of England’s seven home Tests this summer made it that far – and even then they are often a formality that is played out on a weekday in front of a sparse crowd.
I would suggest this is again due to the gap in quality between sides and also the rise of twenty-over franchise cricket hindering the game’s ability to produce batsmen who can apply themselves for long periods.
Gone are the days where you would make your name in Test cricket, only to see if you could apply yourself in the shorter formats. And while Test cricket might be the oldest and most ‘traditional’ format of the game, it is not as though its form has never changed: we have seen experimentation with timeless Tests, six-day Tests, five-day Tests, and Tests with rest days. It pains me to say it, but fans across the world need to come together and give this trial a fair run.