An open letter to ICC on 4-day Test matches

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 07: Ben Stokes and England celebrate the wicket of Vernon Philander of South Africa and winning the match during day 5 of the 2nd Test match between South Africa and England at Newlands Cricket Stadium on January 07, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 07: Ben Stokes and England celebrate the wicket of Vernon Philander of South Africa and winning the match during day 5 of the 2nd Test match between South Africa and England at Newlands Cricket Stadium on January 07, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

To,

Mr Shashank Manohar, Chairman

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Board of Directors

The International Cricket Council (ICC)

Dubai Sports City, Dubai 

Subject: Recommending A New Workable Format for 5-Day Test Cricket 

Dear Sirs, 

Over the last couple of weeks, there has been an animated conversation about the potential of reducing the classic 5-day Test cricket to an abbreviated 4-day Test match to address the crucial issue of declining spectator presence on the grounds as well as diminishing TV viewership. 

The concern is understandable. 

The ICC has belatedly, but thankfully, bitten the bullet and accepted the hard reality staring at it with a troubled expression; yes, Test cricket is under threat from a severe onslaught of T20/ODI cricket and faces the prospect of inevitable and certain extinction. That will be a tragic demise. 

Now, with the introduction of T10 and 100 ball matches, one can confidently predict that Test cricket will be further cannibalised with the exponential growth of limited overs cricket. But this is the perfect time to look at pragmatic structural changes instead of simplistic cosmetic tinkering. 

There is a lot at stake for a game with such a splendid historical legacy. In a nutshell, Test cricket's real challenge stems from two main reasons:

1) The high probability of drawn results after 5 long days -- this is the biggest cause of growing disenchantment, accentuated by seeing the same or similar players achieve quick-fire results in T20 cricket within a space of 40 overs and 3 hours. 

The changing demographics and media imperatives are clearly dictating the game's future. Younger people get restless, they want result-oriented sporting contests. A football match even if a draw lasts 90 minutes, not 5 days, they grumble. 

The threat is real, no matter how exciting Test matches have been of late (take Ben Stokes’s brilliance in the Ashes). The single biggest drawback remains the high potentiality of matches drifting to an inconclusive draw. For the on-ground spectator or the couch potato TV viewer, it appears like a crucial waste of valuable investment of scarce time. It is sacrilege. 

Finally, everyone wants to see a winner. Or a loser. The cricket aficionado has a right to expect more from Test cricket. 

In short, we need to have a format that guarantees a clear result. In football and hockey draws are acceptable, because the matches are a maximum of 90 minutes. But even there as matches reach the knock-out stage, extra-time and penalty shoot-outs ensure a result. Finally, you have someone holding aloft a trophy. 

In cricket, it is not just a drawn Test match that has people tearing their hair out, but the frightening prospect of a drawn series as well with all matches being squared off with no results. Or worse, ‘teams playing for a draw’. 

2) Test cricket, in any case, loses huge spectator and TV audience due to its timings, as it inevitably runs into week-days and office-hours and also when students have school and college commitments. Thus, an uninspiring structure (as seen by modern watchers as compared to us unhurried and patient connoisseurs of the past) gets further hit by the systemic fault-line (day/night matches maybe a panacea), resulting in a decline in viewing patterns.

My recommended format for Test cricket

There is good news: there is no need to truncate Test cricket to 4 days to make it more absorbing and entertaining for both those in the stadium and those watching it on TV at home, clubs and offices. We just need to give Test cricket an ‘adrenaline rush’. 

I, therefore, propose to the ICC the following amendments to Test cricket to ensure, one, a definite result, and secondly, increase audience and viewership. We can actually kill two birds with one stone:

  1. Cricket should still be played over 5 days - No change.

  2. Each playing day to have 100 overs (relative to today's 90). Thus, matches should begin earlier than right now. We will thus have a maximum of 500 overs in a Test match comprising both innings for the two sides if they are completed.

  3. Each team gets to play a maximum of 125 overs per team per inning (125x4) = 500 overs, that is if they are not all out before that or choose to declare their innings. 

  4. But if Team ‘A’, batting first, is all out under 125 overs, then the balance remaining overs gets added to Team ‘B’ kitty in a carry-forward. For example, if Team ‘A’ is bowled out in 97 overs in the first innings, then it has not utilized 28 overs from its permitted 125 overs quota. Team ‘B’ thus gets to bat an additional 125+28 overs (unused overs) = 153 overs.

  5. Similarly, if Team ‘B’ is all out in its first innings for 100 overs, then ‘Team A’ can now bat for 125+53 overs (unused overs) = 178 overs in Team A's second innings. This gives added motivation to get the other team out as early as possible. The carry forward of unused overs is cumulative. The run-rate is crucial in this format as merely batting out the overs or saving wickets will not materially make any difference. 

  6. As a result, in the fourth and final innings ‘Team B’ will have to score xxx runs in at least 125 overs, or more, depending on how many overs it took to dismiss the other team and the balance unutilised overs.

  7. If ‘Team B’ fails to score more than ‘Team A’ aggregate score despite having wickets in hand, it will stand to lose the match, unlike currently where it results in a drawn Test. The run-chase/run-rate element is intrinsic in this model. 

  8. A winning chase is now mandated and the winner is the one with a higher aggregate score. This ensures a certain, guaranteed result to a Test match. Of course, in this format a tied result will be the ultimate thriller even if that is a drawn result.

  9. All other rules currently applicable to Test cricket should apply, including Duckworth-Lewis used in limited overs format for rain interruptions, which will ensure results as a priority. 

  10. TV broadcasters will particularly endorse this model as a 5-day Test match will become akin to 5 ODIs without disturbing the quintessential charm of Test cricket, with guaranteed results. As we all know 4-day Test matches will only end up increasing the incidence of drawn results which will make Test cricket even more of an unattractive proposition. 

I concede to being a great fan of Test cricket and would like to see it reinvented not necessarily redacted, though. 

I am the founder of CricketNext.com, now part of TV 18 News Network in India. 

I will appreciate your kind acknowledgement of this mail and am confident that Test cricket in this format will bounce back. I am hopeful that all the august members of the ICC, including those in charge of improvement in the laws of the game, will deliberate on this proposal and implement it after due deliberations. 

The very best and good luck! 

Sincerely, 

Sanjay 

Sanjay Jha 

Founder, former Managing Director

www.CricketNext.com 

CC: Anil Kumble 

CC: Mr Manu Sawhney, CEO

CC: All Other Member Countries of ICC 

Disclaimer: Sanjay Jha is the National Spokesperson, Indian National Congress party. The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

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