Remember when the ICC decided to funk up ODIs around 10 years ago by introducing the alliterative pair of innovations; Power Plays and Super Subs? Power Plays, with some tweaks along the way, are very much part of ODIs now, and add an element of tactical appreciation. The Super Sub was scrapped after a year or so as it was seen to favour the team winning the toss.
We now have a new pair of innovations on the ICC desk in Dubai; the test ladder, and the concept of moving to playing four day tests.
Details of both are to be confirmed of course and, like Power Plays, are likely to be tinkered with along the way.
The initial reaction seems to be general approval for the test ladder, but not so much for four day tests.
It is a really interesting one. By nature, test cricket fans pride themselves on traditions and history, and this is a significant change. But viewing figures for that form of the sport, along with those going to matches, are on the slide, so the ICC is right to consider some modernisation.
The best argument for 4 day tests is it makes proper series more viable. A three week, three test tour becomes an attractive thing, and the hosts get a format that they can plan for in the long term. Like golf tournaments week in, week out around the world, you have Thursday and Friday for the corporates, then you open up to the masses.
Rinse and repeat; offer long-term packages etc.
As demonstrated in the Plunket Shield, four day matches move comparatively quickly. In this age of more instant gratification that will make it marketable; noting that four days is still a long time.
And while we get misty-eyed about ultra long-form test cricket it’s probably a good time to remind us of the only 6 day test played in New Zealand. That is not the future.
And if every test goes from Thursday through Sunday then, funnily enough, we have a the foundations of a new tradition.
The main risk with this idea lies particularly in New Zealand.
While full details of the new format are still being worked through you would expect a day’s play would consist of between 100 and 105 overs. At the upper end, that’s 420 rather than 450 overs, which is not in itself massive given not many tests finish on the last session currently.
But if the first day was lost to rain then we have a problem, in the difficulty in making up for lost time in a way a five day test allows.
For a start, you have only three days rather than four to extend. And if you are starting with a 105 hour day it is difficult to extend that. The Players’ Association would rightly have some issues with that, and there are only so many hours of daylight.
It also takes the Fifth Day Pitch factor out of the equation, although ground staff and homogenous technology have already done more to get rid of that.
So the pros and cons are pretty even, and there is no obvious right answer. If it does go ahead, it could become the Super Sub of test cricket. Alternatively, people in 20 years’ time might look back at the current, more random, structure as quaintly archaic.
But if it’s not tried then we will never know.