Why cricket must stick with five-day Tests

David Holden Roar Pro

By , David Holden is a Roar Pro

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    Ellyse Perry’s unbeaten 213 in yesterday’s Test should have set up the Australian women’s team to regain the Ashes.

    At the time of writing, however, this was far from certain. Over the chosen four-day format and on a good batting pitch, a draw was still the most likely outcome at the start of Day 4. You would have to think that over a five-day Test the Australian team would be the hot favourite.

    It seems the cricketing world is moving towards the shorter Test format. South Africa have announced plans to play Zimbabwe over four days in late December, while the English Cricket Board are pushing a permanent move to four-day Tests.

    It’s easy to understand the reasons. Money is the first. The reduction to four-day Tests would probably correspond to an increase in minimum overs per day from 90 to 100 or 105. As you’d probably be playing two days over the weekend, attracting bigger crowds, average daily gate takings should be larger.

    Secondly, Twenty20 has changed cricket. The public expect to go to a match and see big hitting, and the thought is that you would experience more of that in a shorter Test match. In T20 you will see plenty of fours and sixes, lots of wickets and some athletic fielding, and three or four hours later you’re on your way home after some great entertainment.

    Instant gratification? Sure – but you can leave with the sense that the result didn’t really matter that much anyway. Who remembers the T20 series result the last time Australia toured England?

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    The other impact of Twenty20 is that it’s at least partially responsible for bigger strike rates of the game’s best batsman. David Warner has always been aggressive at the crease, but the likes of Joe Root, Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Kane Williamson are now all scoring quickly. This does raise the likelihood of more Tests getting a result within four days.

    Looking at some analysis of Test matches over the past 40 years, there is a trend towards shorter Tests. In the 1980s, 77 per cent of Test matches went to five days, but that dropped to 67 per cent in the 1990s and to only 58 per cent since 2000. However, importantly, out of six Tests in Australia last summer, four matches went the distance, including two epic finishes in Brisbane and Melbourne.

    With a four-day Test match, we wouldn’t have seen Pakistan slowly grab the upper hand at the Gabba before the Australians struck through for the win. We wouldn’t have seen a likely draw in the Boxing Day Test turn into an Australian win with Pakistan bowled out in just over 53 overs in the second innings not long before stumps was called. It was gripping stuff and exactly what Test matches are about.

    Cricket Australia are saying they will not be shortening the men’s format against at least the top-tier playing nations, and I am in total agreement. Some things don’t need to change. Of course, their comments are easy to make coming into an Ashes series when the crowds are guaranteed to be huge.

    A Test match is exactly that: a test, a more even contest between bat and ball. You won’t always get five-day Test matches, but for many, the desperation of the fifth day is the best part.

    For Ellyse Perry and the Australian team’s sake, I hope they take the ten wickets today and take a deserved victory. If they don’t, there will be many left thinking what would have happened if the Test match was played over five days.