Alterations welcome but need to step up pace of play first

  • Ian Chappel, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Nov 29, 2015 16:52 IST
Australia's captain Steve Smith plays a shot during the second day of the day-night cricket Test match at the Adelaide Oval on November 28, 2015. (AFP)

Before a (pink) ball was even delivered in the historic Day-Night Test at the Adelaide Oval, the concept received a tremendous boost from India captain Virat Kohli. “Hopefully it will be better for the game,” said Kohli. “It will be a step which we all might remember a few years down the line. Let’s hope so.”

The other major reaction to the arrival of Day/Night Test has been a renewed call for four-day matches. That suggestion may seem like an extension of the current revolution but it’s actually a return to the past when four-day Tests were a regular occurrence.

There’s no doubt that what appears to be the successful transition to Day/Night Tests will make the four-day concept far more practical. Back in 1978-79, World Series Cricket played Day/Night Super Tests that were of seven hours and four days duration; it’s far less taxing on the players to introduce longer playing hours when not so many take place in the heat of the day.

However, not every venue can accommodate night cricket and this makes a unilateral move to four-day Tests difficult. This is especially so when Tests continue to move at the pace of the recent WACA Test; a glacier’s progress would have outstripped the cricket.

The overs in Perth were bowled at tortoise speed and the umpires and referee did nothing to move the game along. There was the obligatory sightscreen breakdown, batsmen regularly held up bowlers who were ready to deliver and drinks were served more often than at an office Christmas party.

If you throw in time wasted on pointless replays, the game resembled the description so humorously applied by comic genius Robin Williams. Williams once described cricket as “baseball on valium”.

In fact, while baseball — which generally lasts around three hours — is introducing new rules to speed up play, cricket officials regularly make decisions that further slow the pace of the game.

Among the suggestions to support four-day Tests was raising the minimum number of overs in a day from 90 to 100. The people making the suggestion obviously don’t watch Tests where elongated conversations between captain and bowler, the tardiness between overs plus the other hold ups mentioned above, occur regularly. If four-day Tests are going to be an integral part of the calendar, then the officials and players will have to play their part in speeding up the game.

Among the avenues available to administrators are full sightscreens (with no advertising) that accommodate bowlers who operate both over and round the wicket; the introduction of a law where it’s a boundary if the ball hits the rope (and if it doesn’t, it’s what the batsmen run). They could also revert to a backfoot no-ball law (with safeguards to stop bowlers delivering from a shortened distance) so over-rates are improved by the virtual eradication of boring front-foot no-balls.

The players have to be part of the process by accepting a more sensible approach to drinks and agreeing to the etiquette of batsmen facing up when the bowler is ready to deliver.

It was noticeable that the pace of play picked up dramatically in the cooler conditions of the inaugural Day/Night Test after the tardiness in the heat of Perth. At the same time as this was taking place, Kohli led India to an emphatic victory over South Africa well inside three days. Two Tests, one a day/night experiment and the other a short, traditional match, were proof that both concepts are feasible. And both changes could enhance the longer format but so also would a dramatic improvement in the pace of play.

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