Five, better than four!

Fighting knocks to force draws, the challenge of countering a wearing pitch and thrilling finishes can be seen more in five-day Tests than in four-day ones.

In recent times, in Chennai, a nail-biting finish was possible only because the Test match went into the fifth day.   -  Reuters

Reducing a Test match to four days is an idea that is being discussed for quite some time now. Four-day Tests are being talked about in the face of dwindling crowds at the stadiums, and matches being finished in four days often. It’s a popular discussion among administrators, fans and analysts too.

But in my opinion, it’s a bad idea.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. One can certainly think of reforms which are required rather than doing away with the time-honoured and well-established tradition of five-day Test matches.

Fighting knocks to force draws are one of the most romantic aspects of Test match cricket. Can we forget Hanif Mohammed’s 337, Ricky Ponting’s 156, Faf du Plessis’s 110 and Mike Atherton’s 185 not out, to just take a few names and brilliant innings from the bookshelf of Test history? If Tests are reduced to four days, this aspect will be lost forever. Such knocks are often series changing in nature, with the momentum shifting as a result.

The romance of a wearing pitch will also be lost. Classically, a Test cricket pitch gave assistance to quick bowlers on the first day, with the batsmen having a relatively easier time on days two and three. On days four and five the spinners came into play. All this made five-day Tests fascinating. Let us not ruin it by making it unidimensional and killing the art of spin.

Recently there were two enthralling Test matches where the side batting first scored well over 400 runs, and yet lost by an innings.

The first was in Chennai where England batting first put up 477. India declared at 759 for seven and England after batting for five overs on the fourth day collapsed on the fifth to lose by an innings. Had this been a four-day Test, the scorecard would have read, England 477 and 12 for no loss. India 759 for seven declared.

The second was the 2016 Boxing Day Test in Melbourne where Pakistan scored 443 for nine declared, but then collapsed for 163 in the second innings to give the Aussies, who had scored 624 for nine declared, a win by an innings and 18 runs.

At the end of the fourth day, the Aussies were 465 for six with Smith on 100 not out and Mitchell Starc on seven not out. Quickfire batting by Smith, who scored 165 not out, and Starc (84) took the Aussies to a huge lead and an unlikely win. Imagine, if it had been a four-day Test, the score would have been Pakistan 443 for nine declared and Australia 465 for six. This shows that four-day Tests would lead to an increase of boring draws.

It has been said that dwindling crowds are because of Tests prolonging to five days. And the remedy given is to reduce the matches to four days. But there is no guarantee that reducing Tests to four days will bring the crowds back. So, let’s try new things like the recently tried idea of giving free tickets to schoolchildren to develop their interest. And, let us also remember that in traditional Test-playing countries like Australia and England there are still huge crowds for five-day Test matches.

Finally, many are saying that as quite a few Test matches are finishing in four days, let’s make it official. This is absolutely not acceptable. Rather we need to explore the reasons why Test matches sometimes finish in four days. Is it due to bad pitches, or is it because of the faulty technique of batsmen? Solve these problems, rather than resorting to the knee-jerk reaction of throwing the baby out with the bath water.