With so many questions over the future of Test cricket, the ICC needs to be innovative to keep the sport’s traditional format from fading away.
Test cricket needs to be sped up. The five-day format is not suited to the modern world, especially when so much time is wasted unnecessarily.
The fourth Ashes Test at the SCG finished in a thrilling draw, coming down to the last wicket with England’s veteran duo Stuart Broad and James Anderson managing to defy Australia’s bowling attack.
But after roughly two sessions were washed away due to rain, the Australians could rightly feel slightly aggrieved that those missing overs played a part in them missing out on a victory, although Pat Cummins’ late declaration on day four certainly played a part.
Fines and deducting World Test Championship points are not enough of a deterrent. Cricket needs on-the-spot penalties for players wasting time – like penalty runs – or they will continue to thumb their nose at the laws and the spirit of the game.
Here are 11 ways in which cricket can speed things up in the Test arena to make it more enjoyable for the fans at the ground or watching on whichever screen takes their fancy.
1 – Get rid of drinks breaks
The five-minute ritual in the middle of a two-hour sessions is no longer needed. Batters routinely get drinks delivered to them by the 12th man and outfielders have a drinks cooler placed around the boundary to sip whenever they want.
Have a designated trainer like in the football codes who runs onto the field at the change of overs. They’d have 30 seconds to sprint to the middle, let a player take a swig and then dash off. Make it one player each time so it gets spread around over the course of a session and they could even make a drop-off to the umpires if they request rehydration. No drinks breaks means you save 15 minutes a day, as much as 75 minutes extra over the course of a five-day contest.
2 – Real time penalties for slow over rates
This is the major one – captains still don’t particularly care if the over rates are slow. Fines don’t work when many of the skippers are paid extremely well for their toil and the ICC has been reluctant to ban captains over the years. What will actually work is awarding penalty runs if a team drops behind the over rate. In The Hundred competition in England, a captain has to bring an extra fielder into the inner circle if they fall behind in the over rate. It’s going to be trialled in the T20 World Cup. In Test cricket, it could be a case of a fielder has to sit out an over if the team is behind the rate – that would put a stop to this ongoing issue.
3 – Mid-pitch conversations
Ban them altogether during an over. Unless a player is hurt or ill and in need of attention, the striker should stay at one end and the non-striker at the other. The vast majority of the time that batters all of a sudden gather for a mid-pitch chat is to delay the game for tactical reasons. This sort of gamesmanship needs to be eradicated. Batters can chat in private at the end of each over, the rest of the time, you’re on your own and no amount of chat can save you when the ball is heading towards you.
4 – Maximum number of equipment changes
Steve Smith is a serial offender here with calling for gloves, often signalling for a new pair before he’s even reached double figures. If a bat or any piece of equipment breaks or a player wants to switch from cap to helmet or vice versa, then that should be allowed but there should be a limit on how many times a batter can call for new gear in a session.
5 – Stump markings on the crease
Another one that adds up over the course of the day is each batter asking for leg, middle, off and all points in between multiple times. Why can’t the groundstaff etch in the three markings and a couple in between for those who want middle and leg or middle and off? Do it at each end on the batting crease with another set around 30cm or so in front of that for the player that likes to bat outside their crease and let the batters figure it out themselves. It’s another idiosyncracy of some batters which is done many times a day and is totally unnecessary.
6 – Sightscreen spectators given one warning then moved or out of ground
We saw this many times in the SCG Test – dopey spectators with prime seats over the bowler’s arm moving around during live play. Most had a drink in hand and looked like the type who go to games for the social aspect rather than the actual on-field entertainment. You want to be seen? Good for you, but not by the TV cameras after the batter signals to the umpire that they’re being a distraction. Repeat offenders should be switched to the cheap seats or ushered to the exit.
7 – Time limit between overs
A “shot clock” has worked in other sports where players take too long during breaks so why not set a limit of 40 seconds between each over for the captain to set a field, the bowler to be at their mark and play to resume? That would still give the broadcasters enough time for their advertisements and prevent the situation we see way too often where an on-field committee takes an age to decide if the cover fielder should be closer to point or mid-off, saving the one or back on the boundary. Make a decision and get on with the game. The same applies to the batters – have your little chat between the overs and get ready for the next one.
8 – Batters need to be in position when bowler is at top of the mark
Whether it’s at the start of the over or any delivery in between, there is no reason why a batter shouldn’t be in position to face when the bowler is at the start of their run-up. Obviously you can’t have a spinner walk two steps past the bowling crease, swivel and bowl it when the batter’s not ready but too often we see a seamer turn around and have to halt their run-up because the batter hasn’t settled into their stance.
9 – Limiting the number of DRS appeals per team
Due in part to the Ashes using home umpires because of travel restrictions in the pandemic, each team is being permitted three incorrect DRS referrals per innings. Now that captains don’t lose an appeal if the verdict is umpire’s call, that gives teams the luxury of wasting a review even when they know there’s little chance of a successful outcome. The review system was brought in place to stop umpiring howlers not for line-ball calls – give each team one appeal per innings and if they burn it with an erroneous appeal then they’ve only got themselves to blame.
Not too far away.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) January 9, 2022
10 – Free hits for no-balls
Umpires are not even calling no-balls live anymore, which has led to batters being recalled in each side during the Ashes, and after getting tipped off by the third umpire, are awarding no-balls well after the ball is dead. Bring in the free hit for Test cricket, which has been the case in the limited-overs arena, since 2007. It will still mean an extra ball is bowled when someone goes over the mark but anything that discourages bowlers from pushing the envelope with their front foot is a “step” in the right direction.
11 – Square leg umpire goes to point when left- and right-handed batter changes
This is a minor one but will save time – does it really matter if the umpire is at point when left- and right-handed batters change strike during an over? Point fielders are often placed on the boundary these days anyway. If they’re in the way at point then switch back over to leg but there’s always a video umpire on hand for nearly all the secondary umpire’s decisions anyway.