MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 26: A general view as cricket fans in the crowd of 88,172 enjoy the atmosphere on Boxing Day during day one of the Fourth Test Match in the 2017/18 Ashes series between Australia and England at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 26, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

It has finally happened. The first four-day Test match is currently underway at Port Elizabeth in South Africa. However, it may seem that four days is ample for this strong South Africa side to dispatch Zimbabwe. Indeed, the tourists are sitting precariously at 30/4 at stumps, after South Africa declared on 309/9. Aiden Markram led the charge with his superb 125, while Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander did the damage with the ball under lights. This, though, should not distract from the real issue at hand – the prospect of four-day Test cricket becoming a regular event.

The ICC are trying everything to ensure that Test cricket survives, but this is a step to far and could ultimately lead to its destruction.
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Day-Night Tests Do The Job

In a bid to make Test cricket more accessible, the ICC implemented day-night Test cricket. It’s primary purpose was to allow spectators to come to the ground after a day at school or work. This has been fairly successful since its inception, perhaps with the exception of the Edgbaston Test between England and the West Indies. An important side effect of day-night Test cricket has been that wickets have tumbled under lights. Indeed, the pink ball has been observed to move drastically under lights and it is undoubtedly the hardest time to be at the crease. The first day-night Test lasted just three days, showing the difficulty in playing in these conditions. For further evidence one can look no further than at the ongoing Test in South Africa. The hosts were looking comfortable at 251/4 at dinner, but nine wickets fell in the evening session under lights.

At this point, having established that day-night Test cricket has had the effect of speeding up games, one should look at the principle of four-day Tests. As part of the general agenda of the ICC, four-day Tests look to increase the pace of the game by forcing results quicker. Admittedly such a structure is in place in the English domestic first-class system and it seems to work well. Yet, when we have day-night Tests, which already force results (there has never been a drawn day-night Test), limiting the game by one day seems simply superfluous. If, as is the case in South Africa, it is a day-night Test and four days, then too much is happening and the pace is being altered too much. Even if a nation considers hosting a four-day Test, the same result can effectively be achieved by using a day-night Test. Indeed, the whole four-day Test format is unnecessary and the same results can be achieved in ways which don’t compromise the length. It is a redundant format.
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Four Is Not Five

In terms of being a format which is engineered to draw greater crowds to the game, four-day Tests are equally flawed. There are two main reasons for this. One of the main attractions of Test cricket is the skill and patience to play the game for five days. This is what the crowd come to see. Reducing it by a lone day has no real effect but to signify defeat and to compromise the skills fundamental to Test cricket. Taking off one day will not draw more crowds, but if anything could deter fans from coming, if they are Test purists. Furthermore, on this theme, if a fan wants to see a faster paced game, they still won’t look to four-day Tests, but rather to limited overs cricket. Changing one day will not be enough to stop fans instantly resorting to T20s and ODIs. Then we have to consider why it is even being used. It will not draw bigger crowds to Tests, it could possibly reduce them, and it does the same thing as the day-night format.

Four-day Test cricket is a step-backwards. It is the compromising of the most traditional format of the game, which will not really progress the game. The ICC have erred greatly in their judgement here and we can only hope that it is not repeated around the world.

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