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Can four-day format revive Test cricket?

The format has already been backed by a few Australian legends, including captains Greg Chappell, Mark Taylor, and the legendary Shane Warne.

cricket Updated: Sep 09, 2016 10:56 IST
Bihan Sengupta
Empty stands are a regular sight at Test matches.
Empty stands are a regular sight at Test matches.(REUTERS)

The International Cricket Council on Wednesday shelved the idea of a two-tier format for Test cricket, thus putting an end to one of its moves to “pull crowds and make the game more attractive”.

The format has already seen a number of changes since its inception with underarm bowling getting banned, overs getting reduced from eight balls to six, “timeless” Test matches getting replaced by the modern five-day format, and now, the game being played under lights with pink balls replacing the traditional red. However, there still seems to be the dearth of an incentive to pull in crowds to witness grueling Test matches over five days.

And to many, slashing the format to four days is the most viable option. The proposed change, however, does not cite the number of minimum overs that are to be played or in each session.

“People want a result-oriented format. Probably, as there aren’t too many results after five days of play, the change in format is required. But this has to be experimented in every nation before a decision is taken. A change shouldn’t be made just for the sake of it,” Chandu Borde, who played 55 Test matches for India, told HT. “The reason Test cricket is taking a back seat is because the T20 and the ODI formats produce more results. One has to decide if they want to push in the 450 overs in four days or cut down on 90 overs of play altogether.”

The format has already been backed by a few Australian legends, including captains Greg Chappell, Mark Taylor, and the legendary Shane Warne. The four-day format has also found support from the men who matter — chiefs of various cricket boards. While David White (New Zealand) and Thilanga Sumathipala (Sri Lanka) gave it a thumbs-up, Craig White (England) went a step ahead to suggest 105 overs of play should replace the modern 90-over format, thus reducing the game by a good 30 overs.

“The fifth day is reserved for spinners. If the allotted 450 overs are squeezed in, the pitch might produce the turn and bounce in the same manner but imagine the amount of stress you’re putting on the players to grab a few eyeballs,” said former spinner Maninder Singh. “There’s anyway such a hue and cry over the frequency of matches that go on throughout the year. If you want audiences for your crowd, you need to ensure your best players remain injury-free.”

Singh, who has 88 Test wickets to his name, said a number of factors should be taken into consideration before such changes are tabled. “I prefer the five-day format as it gives a better chance to get a result. There’s always a fifth day to fall back on if there isn’t a result at the end of the fourth day. The players don’t wear out and can come back fresh as well. The fifth day can be so entertaining,” he added.

Singh went on to recall the enthralling Test match played between India and Australia at Kolkata in 2001. Batting on 24/0 at lunch on the fifth day of the second Test, Australia had crumbled to 212 while chasing a target of 384 runs. Harbhajan Singh, with six wickets, led the pack for India while Sachin Tendulkar chipped in with three wickets. Venkatpati Raju took out Mark Waugh to ensure it was a spinners’ day out at the Eden Gardens. Australia’s run of 16 consecutive wins had come to an end.

However, if indeed the change takes place, pitch curators will have a huge task at hand to prepare pitches in a manner they have never done before.

Changing the format of cricket’s purest form has always encountered opposition from traditionalists who saw the format as sacrosanct. Experimenting with the other two formats, for the sake of adding the “entertainment” factor, seems a more acceptable change. Though BCCI president Anurag Thakur hasn’t waved the green flag yet, with England and Australia backing the change, it will be tough to resist if the smaller nations back the “Big Two.”