Four-day Test cricket is a money-making venture by the ICC, plain and simple.
While the ICC may recite the usual concerns of player fitness and wellbeing, players won’t be resting unless they’re forced to, so this argument a furphy.
All the ICC really cares about is freeing up more space in the schedule for T20 cricket. The ICC has already bowed to the cash cow of the IPL and refuses to schedule any international match during the IPL window, out of fear that it would remove the star players from the competition, reducing viewership and therefore income.
On the ICC’s official Future Tours fixture list for 2022, there are nine matches in this window. A sole Test match, five ODIs and three T20s.
And who are these nations that dare play international cricket in the IPL? The cricketing powerhouses of Ireland and Zimbabwe – who, as it turns out, have the grand total of zero players in the IPL. In 2020, Zimbabwe play Ireland in one Test and five T20s, while 2021 has Zimbabwe playing Pakistan in two Tests and three T20s.
How does this relate to four-day Test matches?
Well, using the IPL, we can already see that the ICC has removed two months’ worth of international fixturing so players can seek the riches of T20 cricket, provided you aren’t Zimbabwean or Irish. This is a twofold argument against the ICC.
Firstly, it shows us that they have already sold themselves out to T20 cricket when it comes to prioritising schedules, and the premise that four-day Tests allow more time for recovery is rubbish. I would be very surprised to not see the extra schedule space shoved full of T20s in order to extract the most amount of money possible.
My second point is that the ICC cites rest as a concern. Had the ICC not caved in to the IPL, this would not be an issue, as there would be a full eight weeks in which nations could be playing international cricket, allowing more rest time between matches.
According to the Cricinfo article revealing this plan, “Mandatory four-day Test matches rather than five-day matches during the current cycle from 2015 to 2023 would have freed up a total of 335 days of scheduled cricket over the period”.
That is a lot of extra time to be slipping in the odd T20 or two, slowly undermining the premise of the players needing rest. Only time can tell whether the ICC mean what they say.
This proposal is simply showing the cricketing community the ICC’s priorities when it comes to cricket. Test matches come off second best when up against T20 or money.
In fact, the list of arguments against four-day matches goes on. Pitch deterioration would cause nightmares for spinners, as they would lose the advantage of the fifth-day wicket, unless the pitch was prepared like Pune 2017. Players and fans are against it.
The divide between the bureaucracy and the players is very clear. The majority of players support five-day Tests, while most of the cricket boards support four-day matches. Joe Root is perhaps the only exception.
The ECB are the fans of this proposal, but they are trying to get the even shorter Hundred format more fixture time, further eroding long-form cricket.
The ICC have shown us time and time again that they place Test cricket last on their list of priorities. Perhaps this time they will listen to the players and fans alike and leave Test cricket alone for once.
What is the cost of four-day Tests? Increasing the dull draws it seeks to prevent? Making virtually any rain-affected match a waste of time?
It is time to leave Test match cricket alone.