By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian batting great Sachin Tendulkar told Reuters he is firmly opposed to shortening test matches to four days from five and has warned against straying too far from the game's roots in the quest to attract a younger audience.
The International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport's world governing body, is set to discuss the idea of reducing all test matches by a day to free up a crowded international calendar.
The future of the longest format has been the subject of debate since the rise of Twenty20 leagues over the last decade coincided with dwindling crowds at test matches outside cricket hotbeds Australia and England.
However, Tendulkar told Reuters there were other ways of making test matches more attractive and halting the drift towards the shorter formats.
"I feel a purist will always enjoy a five-day match, because that is where you find the challenges," he said.
"We should not be looking at test cricket as a longer format of a limited-overs match."
Tendulkar retired from international cricket in 2013 and remains the leading scorer in the format with 15,921 runs and a record 51 hundreds.
He said that while the game continues to evolve it would be a mistake to focus on the latest trends at the expense of tests.
"From test cricket, one-day cricket started, which people enjoyed, and from there T20 came and next the 100-ball will come," he added.
"A number of new things are being produced for the newer generation. But while you are learning new things you cannot forget your roots.
"As a purist, it is important test cricket stays the way it is."
Four-day matches were given the green light by the ICC in 2017 when South Africa hosted Zimbabwe, and England have since played one against Ireland.
With an increasing number of tests finishing before the fifth day, administrators are keen to free up space in the schedule for more lucrative shorter-form matches.
Tendulkar said they should instead focus on producing better playing surfaces to make tests more appealing.
"What is the heart of test cricket? I think the heart of test cricket is to provide a good pitch where there is enough for the bowlers throughout the match," he said.
"The ICC should look to provide exciting wickets for spectators to come and watch. You need to provide surfaces where the bowlers are testing batters also.
"There are two formats -- ODIs and T20s -- where the bowlers are being tested, so you've got to have one format where the batters are being tested.
"That's why it's called test cricket -- it has to test everyone.
"If you provide good pitches which have something for the bowlers, test cricket will find more eyeballs."
Tendulkar, the only cricketer to score 100 centuries across all formats, fears cutting tests by a day would produce more draws and would be detrimental to spin-bowlers, who tend to thrive on deteriorating wickets towards the backend of tests.
"I feel spinners look forward to day four and five when there is wear and tear on a scuffed-up surface," he said.
"It's like taking day one out of a test match for fast bowlers. On day five there are a number of things which happen in test cricket. You are completely taking them away.
"Teams which have got spinners, for sure, will suffer. Subcontinental teams rely on spinners.
"Like how you play on a green top on day one against seamers, you should be able to play spin bowling also on scuffed-up tracks," he said.
"That is also part of cricket."
Improving the competitiveness of teams outside the top five nations of India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England would also make test cricket a more attractive product.
"Everyone is focussing on quantity, five days to four days ... we need to focus more on quality," he said.
"With all due respect there are certain teams which are not challenging the leading five teams. The ICC should be concerned about more teams playing test cricket and being competitive.
"But that competitiveness is missing completely. So, one needs to focus on how could we lift that standard and how we could get them back in test cricket at a level where they are competitive."
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney and Peter Rutherford)