‘Can’t comment just like this’: BCCI president Sourav Ganguly on 4-Day Test match proposal
As Test cricket struggles for popularity with fans queuing up to watch the shorter formats, besides day-night games, a suggestion has been to trim matches into four-day affairs. South Africa played Zimbabwe in a four-day Test in December, 2017 and England faced newbies Ireland this year. Australia will host Afghanistan in a four-day Test next summer.
Though these games have International Cricket Council (ICC) approval, they have essentially been one-off affairs. Cricket website ESPNCricinfo reported on Monday that ICC could give it a seal of permanency. It reported that ICC’s cricket committee plans to recommend trimming Tests to four days from five for the 2023-2031 World Test Championship cycle.
Indian cricket Board president, Sourav Ganguly, said it is too early to comment. “First we will have to see the proposal, let it come… It’s too early to say. Can’t comment just like this,” he was quoted as saying by PTI.
However, opinion is divided on what is the best way ahead for Test cricket. The trigger for the thought to prune matches is an increasing frequency of mismatches, with Tests ending inside four days.
Among the stakeholders, the views of the players will be the most important. Anshuman Gaekwad, the Indian players’ representative to BCCI’s Apex Council, its decision-making body, believes it is too early to bracket all Tests together. Contests between the stronger and weaker teams have been lop-sided, but the question is what happens when two equally matched teams are in battle. India have dominated Tests this year but an India versus Australia Test in late 2020 is expected to be more fiercely fought given the strengths of the two outfits. On a good wicket, India versus New Zealand will also go down to the wire.
At the moment the strength of teams like South Africa and Sri Lanka is down, but what happens when South Africa get good replacements for Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers and Sri Lanka get batsmen of the calibre of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara?
The former India opener feels a better way to experiment with four-day Tests will be to form two groups, Elite and Plate. In the Elite, have five-days Tests among teams like India, Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa, and have the other teams in the Plate division. “What would be appropriate is to segregate the Test playing nations… Have the Plate group matches as four-day affairs and see how it goes. There should be promotion and relegation,” he said.
There is huge consumption for Test cricket in countries like England, Australia and New Zealand, and in India in old Test centres like Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bengaluru. “For India, we have to get when and where to host the Tests right; there is still a big following for Tests,” said Gaekwad. “Like earlier, the Pongal Test would be played in Chennai and the New Year Test in Kolkata, Diwali in Mumbai. It is important to pick the occasion when it will be holidays and the crowd would come.”
ESPNcricinfo reported that ICC is mulling four-day affairs because of factors like its plans to stage more global events, BCCI’s demands for an expanded bilateral calendar, proliferation of T20 leagues around the world and the cost of hosting five-day games. Cricket Australia chief Kevin Roberts has backed the idea of four-day Tests, but how BCCI, being the biggest stakeholder in the game, looks at it will be important.
One factor is ICC wanting to free up the calendar to push its plan to organise a World Cup every year. “There is excitement about the World Cup because it is held every four years, if you conduct it every other year it will be like any other trophy,” BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal told HT, saying the board is yet to hear about any four-day Test plan from ICC.
Australia captain Tim Paine believes Test cricket should be a five-day affair. “We might not have got a result if we’d done that in the Ashes, I think every game went to a fifth day,” said Paine after leading Australia to win over New Zealand in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
Heavyweights in the ICC Board have not been impressed with the world body’s move to increase the frequency of world events. In a counter to ICC’s plan, BCCI has floated the idea of a four-nation limited-overs tournament involving the Big Three boards (India, Australia and England) and one another board.