Change is the only constant but some things are best when left untouched. As talks of four-day Tests dominate the world of cricket, this is something that the International Cricket Council should stop at when they think about reducing a day from the longest, purest, testing, grinding - the list of adjectives only go on when you describe Test cricket.
Red-ball cricket has had its fair share of evolution...make no mistake. From three, four, five, six and a timeless game (the pre-Second World War "timeless Tests" between), it has travelled around a bit and five-day was the sweet spot and it has remained so since the mid 1970s. Experiments of four-day and six-day games were done as recently as 2019 and 2005 respectively but they did not have a major success story.
However, International Cricket Council [ICC], the cricket's governing body, is insistent on reducing a day of Test cricket following the calendar year 2023 and is set to discuss the proposal in March? But, why? Well! For starters, revenues. If a day of Test cricket is reduced, it saves a day of extra cost that comes up for arranging the game. The day is longer and broadcasters get a fair pinch of money as well. By maximising the playing time over the weekend, the board and broadcasters expect more public to tune in from their homes and visit the stadium, thus, more inflow of cash. Not only that, a general belief is also that a day less would allow weaker oppositions to grind out a draw or in some cases a win against stronger oppositions.
But, at what cost one may ask?
REPERCUSSIONS OF FOUR-DAY TESTS
If a day is taken away from the game, will we ever have a repeat of Harbhajan's 2001 Eden heroics? A failed but brave heist like Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz in Birmingham? In fact, if four-day Tests come in to play, half of Ben Stokes' career in 2019 will never be remembered again. That's what the five-day format brings to the table. Test, grind, magic and sheer application -- it's 'test' for a reason.
Four-day games would mean rush and more rash shots and it reduces the whole point of grinding and the price of a wicket. The look of a batsman when he has grinded 200 deliveries and reached his hundred or the bowler after he gets his wicket after successfully setting up a batsman will be reduced. Now, a team batting first looks to bide their time and play two days and put in the opposition under pressure and when the latter come out of it -- it shows the real character of a team, individual. In four days, that won't be possible. Teams will look to pile up runs quicker, bowlers will have more pressure to get wickets and forget about the joy of a tripe ton until and unless you're Virender Sehwag reborn.
Moreover, four-day Tests would also mean more workload on teams which go with four bowlers. On a day when 98 overs are to be bowled instead of 90, a workload of bowlers will increase and on a summer day in places like Chennai, Perth...it's nothing short of a nightmare.
As the debate rages on about reducing a day, India and South Africa captains Virat Kohli and Faf du Plessis said that Test cricket should be for five days while Australia and England skippers Tim Paine and Joe Root respectively feel that there is some merit to four-day cricket.
"Four-day Tests? Look, I'm not a fan of [it]. "I think the intent will not be right then because then you will speak of three-day Tests, where do you end? Then you speak of Test cricket disappearing. I don't endorse that at all.
"I don't think that's fair to the purest format of the game - how cricket started initially and five-day Test matches was the highest of tests you can have at the international level. According to me, it shouldn't be altered," Kohli said when asked about four-day Tests.
Tim Paine, Joe Root and Faf du Plessis also agreed to their Indian counterpart.
"I think it should be taken into consideration. I dare say going back six or seven years if you let the players decide on pink ball that probably wouldn't have happened. There is always going to be some give and take.
"I think there is some merit on it being in the odd Test like we did with England and Ireland. But I think the big marquee Test series, the Test championship stuff has to stay five days," said Paine.
"I think there's merit to four-day cricket. Whether that's across the board or can it be flexible - we've obviously played one against Ireland. I'm sure that pitch would've been fit for a three-day game.
"I do think it's worth trialling and it might not always make sense for England to play especially if its against Australia or some of the bigger sides but it might draw a bit more interest with some of the countries who struggle to get people in the ground," Root told Sky Sports.
"My opinion is that I am a fan of Test cricket going five days."
"I understand that a lot of money is being burnt on five-day cricket because so many Test matches are not going five days. People will sit 50-50 on it. My personal opinion is that I am still a purist of the game because I have been part of some great draws that went five days," Du Plessis said.
"There would definitely not have been a result in four days on this surface," he added referring to the Cape Town result, which England won on the last day.
Former greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Ian Botham also expressed their concerns regarding the same.
"I'm against it but I'd like to hear from the people who are pushing it what the major reason is," Ponting told cricket.com.au.
"I know we've had a lot of four-day games the last couple of years but what I've noticed in the last decade is how many drawn Test matches there have been, and I just wonder if they had have been all four-day Test matches through that period of time would we have had more drawn games.
"That's one thing I don't think anybody wants to see. I understand there is a commercial side to it, saving money and things like that and how they would start on a Thursday to finish on Sunday."
"From a purist’s point of view and being an admirer of Test cricket, I don’t think it should be tinkered with. The format has to be played in the way it has been played for so many years," Tendulkar was quoted as saying by PTI.
"The batsmen will start thinking that it is a longer version of limited overs match because the moment you bat till the second day lunch, you know that there’s only two and half days to go. That changes the thinking and dynamics of the game," he added.
"Well played England...Such a good idea to end 5day test cricket....full house watching cricket at its best !! Leave the flag ship of cricket alone it’s a real test of character, skill,guts,stamina & ability...it’s real cricket for real players !!! Leave it Alone !!!!!!,” Botham tweeted after England's win over South Africa on Tuesday.
So, is there no way to make Test cricket more appealing to the masses? Definitely there are.
Innovation plays a major part in getting crowds to the stadiums and attracting new viewers. Take the 'Pink-Ball Test' for example. Kolkata embraced it with open arms and stands were filled out for the first four days according to Sorav Ganguly -- the BCCI President. Then comes the 'Boxing Day Test' -- an annual affair in Australia, it gathered over 1.5 lakh supporters over the first two days between Australia and England. Even 2019's affair between the Aussies and New Zealand was a jam-packed affair. Therefore, good cricket and great build up will get fans into the stadiums and that has been proved time and again.
What needs to be done to get that first is to provide good, competitive pitches. These days, a lot of games finish early because they are played on flat decks. The team batting first bats out their opposition and by the team the second team gets to bat, cracks open up and with time some pitches deteriorate to dust bowls...the manual in South Africa's tour of India last year. Therefore, a more straightforward and basic approach should be taken -- make sporting pitches. A top that should have grass on the first two days, which allows pacers to get something out of it, loosen up with time and be good for batting and then towards the end, bring spinners into the game. Whenever this has been done, results and great matches have followed, thus, filling the stadiums. Purists of the game and its followers will always flock to the stadiums for good cricket and that's only possible when it is more competitive.
A ICC committee led by former India captain Anil Kumble is set to discuss the four-day proposal in their next meeting from March 27 to 31 in Dubai despite the growing criticism. Andrew Strauss, Rahul Dravid, Mahela Jayawardene and Shaun Pollock are also on the cricket committee and a decision lies in their hands. While the English Cricket Board has 'cautiously' given its approval to the idea along with Cricket South Africa, BCCI's Ganguly has said it's 'too early' to talk about the proposal.
Ganguly, a former cricketer of huge stature and now the head of perhaps the most powerful board in the world of cricket, is likely to have a huge say in the issue but as things stand, the idea hasn't gone down too well with the players and if the people playing the game are not happy, will the ones watching it feel the joy? It's for ICC to decide.