How four-day Tests can actually prove a winner
ARE four days enough for a Test match?
It certainly was in the just-completed Australian summer.
Five Tests were played and they all finished inside four days and well under 380 overs in total, although that result could be summarily dismissed as a small sample size.
However, 433 Tests were played in the past decade, producing 349 results. Of those, 320 - or 92 per cent - were completed inside 380 overs.
The 380 overs is significant because that equates to 95 overs in each of four days, a theme I will revisit.
Only 58 Tests in the past decade exceeded 380 overs, with 29 of those being drawn.
That means reducing Tests to four days would've sacrificed only 29 results in a decade.
Among the 29 draws, there was only one nailbiter and one other closely fought match - a reason often put forward for the retention of five-day Tests.
Many current players strongly oppose the ICC suggestion that four-day Tests be considered for the World Test Championship in 2023.
This was where the administrators blundered.
Before making an announcement, they should've sold the idea to the players. The concept of a game flourishing as a partnership between administrators and players is not one that either side has grasped.
I'm in favour of four-day Tests if it improves the product and it's introduced for the right reasons and with a number of changes to be agreed upon.
If the idea is purely an exercise in saving money and freeing up extra dates for increased limited-overs cricket, then I'm totally against the change.
To accommodate 95 overs per day, the administrators need to change some laws and make some compromises.
First, the law changes:
* I'd suggest a back-foot no-ball law to virtually eradicate a blight on the game and improve over rates.
* Replays to confirm boundaries should be dispensed with. If the ball hits the rope, it's four; if it doesn't, it's what they run. Ball boys could be used to promptly return the ball to the middle.
14) The DRS has slowed the game considerably so this would be a good opportunity to overhaul and simplify the system.
Now the compromises:
* Advertising on sightboards (which inevitably holds up play) should be scrapped. The boards need to cover a bowler coming from over or round the wicket without being moved. Any batsman holding up play because someone is moving outside the sightscreen should be firmly told to "get on with it".
* Umpires need to strictly enforce what used to be etiquette. When the bowler is ready, the batsman must face up. One drink per session should be firmly applied and any change of gloves only occurs during that break in play.
In return for those - and any other time-saving initiatives - the players then agree to complete 95 overs in six hours, with the only concession coming for a serious injury. If the 95 overs aren't completed each day, the captain receives a stiff suspension.
If day/night Tests become the norm, play could be extended to accommodate 100 overs.
This would mean a reduction of only 50 overs from the current five-day minimum of 450, which, incidentally, wasn't reached once in the past decade.
One complaint concerning four-day Tests is the prospect of more draws.
This makes it crucial pitches are prepared to offer bowlers encouragement.
Officials should be warned that grounds where draws are played out without weather interruptions are in danger of being removed from the roster.
Anyway, the likelihood of an increase in draws is negligible. The generation weaned only on short-format cricket is about to reach international level and this could well result in matches being completed in even fewer overs.
Another fear being expressed by the naysayers is the extinction of spinners. On the contrary, the need to improve over rates in a compressed game should lead to more penetrative spin bowling, rather than less.
In my experience good players quickly adapt to the length of the contest.
The big drawback to four-day Tests occurring seamlessly is the fact that international cricket is partly run by both the ICC and the individual countries. Consequently, the current schedule is a dog's breakfast that any self-respecting spaniel would spurn.
Test cricket needs nurturing and this is one way to achieve that aim.
Another improvement would be an increase in the number of truly competitive teams.