Sport is emotional. I am pretty emotional. Warning – this is a bit of a rant, jotted down in one take, with a duff keyboard and a lagging laptop. By the end, I’ve had enough of all of it. So just a head’s up. My laptop is still intact, although the swear box has been filled nicely. So take it away…..
Lyrics from a song I like this year (well a remix of) but sums up where I am. I’m not writing about an ODI that followed a well-trodden path, even if it contained the sort of century that you can only dream about. Moeen is rightly popular among many – a throwback cricketer in many ways, and someone England should be proud to have. To play an innings like that should dominate my thinking, my prose, my match report. But in truth I barely watched the game. Things to do, places to go, other sports intruding on my time, other chores needing to be done. Devoting a whole day to sitting in front of a screen, commenting on the cricket is a luxury I can have on only so many occasions. Obviously this means you miss hundreds like today.
But the lyrics in the title (from a song called Tearing Me Up) are directed more at the contents of the article by Nick Hoult regarding the ECB contemplating ending the five day test and shrinking the matches into 4. Graves, at about the same time he was talking to KP and then denying he said what he said, mentioned this sack of garbage a couple of years ago, and most of us put it down to the witless ramblings of another useless administrator who might have money, but had no idea. Empty Suit, presumably because two people at the top of the ECB can’t really be disagreeing with each other, backed up this tosh, but no-one else seemed really serious. Distinct hums came into our airspace when Shiny Toy and #39 started to really float this out in the open. Shiny Toy kept the myth going that all five day tests that reside in our memories as classics could all have been the same with 4 days. Because he is floating it out there that there will be 8 hour days at the test to bowl 100+ overs. Good grief. As Jimmy said on commentary today, they struggle to bowl 90 now so “not sure how that would work”.
Then, this week, we heard that South Africa were trying to make the four day match planned for Boxing Day against Zimbabwe a “test match”. You know how these minds work, it’s as clear as day. “Hello, there’s an opportunity out there, if South Africa get this in the books, maybe we can do it.” The reasons are that they will save seven days play a year, that Day 5 being removed will save substantial costs, and it will make the game more consumer friendly. Have they asked those consumers if that’s something they actually want? The ones they care about. Don’t bother. Specious arseholes.
I am, by my very nature, a traditionalist. I don’t care that much for T20. I’m not that massive a fan of 50 over cricket, but can recognise there’s a bit more nuance to it than spinners bowling darts, small boundaries, big bats, and yes, the skill involved is high. But to me the one thing that T20 does that is anathema to me in cricket, is that it makes the sport about individuals and not about teams. A great T20 player, someone who can bat for an hour and a half smashing it everywhere, is fun the first three or four times I see it. It then gets dull. It normalises the amazing. After a T20 hundred, where has that person to go? Make another for another team somewhere around the world? There’s no team allegiance, but rather have bat will travel. A constant complaint about test matches are there is no context. Where’s the context of playing for Surrey, Port Elizabeth, St Lucia, Quetta, Melbourne, Kwazulu-Natal, Delhi, Bangalore, et al. Lord almighty. Hired guns, performing at a cricket ground near you, and hang about, he’ll be playing for someone else soon. Many team sports you know do this? You are one step away from Exhibition Cricket where the result does not matter. A jot.
Test cricket matters to the players. Sadly not to the spectators it seems as they don’t seem to turn up around the world. But five day test cricket works as a sporting endeavour. 4 day test cricket, now we have been used to five days for pretty much all my cricketing life, is another concession to money. That ship sailed years ago and only the collapse of mighty sporting TV institutions is going to reverse it. The five day game works. If players are not going to bowl 90 overs in a day now, I can’t see how it’s going to work in four days. The players are going to be against it. We here are quite zealous about the lack of penalty for slow play, and yet in four day cricket the games could be much more vulnerable to such nonsense. To me, that’s the key problem with four day tests – it is utterly vulnerable to losing a full day’s play. If we get a rain out on Day 1, we have three days to construct a result. The team batting first could be badly punished for batting well – 350 for 2 after the second day and what are they to do? Pull out stupid early and then the game hinges on whether the team batting second makes the follow-on total. If they do, we might as well pack up and go home. Day 4s mean that you can set up a Game 5. Losing a day’s play on Day 2 would mean the same sort of farce, and Day 3 would ruin pretty much most games. You could have a thrilling test where England score 300 on the first day, the opponents could makes 280 on the second and England are 40 for 1 at the end of Day 2. A beautifully balanced test that could finish on Day 3, but looks destined for a Day 4 finish. Then we have a rained out day and…. England are 60 ahead and are going to have to make a daring declaration to win or bat out the day and try again. I think the third day rain out will kill many a test match. What you going to do, make them bowl 130 overs on Day 4?
That was quite long-winded, but test cricket has adapted to five days and the game is brilliant for it. There are many bad ODIs and T20 games. But a bad test has everyone clutching the pearls. But bad tests still have meaningful performances and five days can draw out thrillers from nowhere. Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago, for instance. Four dull days, great performances by Malik and Cook, and then a nervy collapse and we have a chase down. Four days and that test match will be condemned. Five days and pressure brought a top finish. I don’t even need to go down the Adelaide 2006 route. Adelaide 2010 would have been a draw due to the rain. India’s magnificent win there a few years before 2006 would have been a bore draw. Test matches, 90 overs a day fit 5 days well. I see no problem to be solved.
Except we don’t believe in tests any more. Youngsters are not interested (we are doing bad jobs as parents and sellers of the game if this is the case) we are told. Keep telling someone the problem is test matches and then you believe it. The ECB wan more T20 because they want more money. Players aren’t going to be giving cash up any time soon, so the powers that be will need them to play more – and charge us more to watch.
I’m packing this in for tonight – will return to it tomorrow as my keyboard is giving me the hump more than the ECB. You get my drift. I’ll be back tomorrow to rant some more if there is time. Four day test matches will be the end for me. It’s change to accommodate an inferior format, in my view, and like any punter I can choose to watch or choose not to. And I am now about to throw this accursed laptop across the room.
UPDATE – A non-denial, denial. Let’s gird our loins for the consultation..
In a statement, a spokesman said: “ECB has no firm position on the staging of four-day Test matches. We can see benefits that more compact scheduling might deliver but are sensitive to the potential effects of any change to the traditional format. Careful consideration is required to support the right decisions for the wider game, and on-field matters are key.”
Further consultation will therefore take place before far-reaching decisions are made. “We would welcome more insight on the effects for players and fans in order to help the game make a fully-informed decision on any proposal,” added the ECB’s spokesman. “It is important that cricket is prepared to innovate in all formats of the game where it can help drive interest, accessibility or improvement.
“Above all, ECB is committed to a healthy and competitive future for Test match cricket, here and around the world.”
They’re going to undertake further consultation “…before far reaching decisions are made.” So the decisions will definitely be “far reaching” then, no matter what? It’s just that they’ll be announced after a fig leaf consultation exercise in which any submissions that don’t support the pre-determined outcome will be played down or ignored because those who undertake the “consultation” are an interested party who’ve already shown their hand. Call me cynical, but we all know how this goes.
Note how the proposal is linked to the importance of innovation to “…drive interest, accessibility or improvement.” What kind of Luddite would possibly object to such a wonderful sentiment? It is, so to speak, as American as apple pie – and all delivered in the most infuriating corporate doublespeak. This is sport – SPORT for fuck’s sake!
LikeLiked by 2 people
Hi! I loved reading this post, I feel the same way. I have honestly had it with cricket boards and their money games, they’re killing cricket. I understand why you’re not overly fond of T20s, neither am I right now. However, I feel that a lot of people in recent times have started watching cricket because of T20 leagues. So while it might not involve an amazing amount of skill, it brings in more people to the whole sport, and I think it has done enough to make a place for itself.
Zero time for any advocate of this, and I too am done if four-day Tests come to pass.
Apparently James Vince (2017 Championship average: 34.82) might be on the plane to Australia…
Mark Nicholas does a puff piece on Vince, and then magically it appears that he may be selected for the Ashes.
But the ECB doesn’t leak………I want to make it absolutely clear that the ECB DOES NOT leak. Is there any point having a selection panel?
Shiny Toy is in charge. Isn’t he?
ECB waffle………“It is important that cricket is prepared to innovate in all formats of the game where it can help drive interest, accessibility or improvement.”
1 Show me who are all these invisible people who are saying……” if only Test cricket would go to 4 days I would attend.” Sounds suspiciously like all the mysterious kids who are all watching on their phones.
2 Show me who are all these people who can’t go to test cricket because it is 5 days, but would find it more accessible to go if it was 4 days. Most people buy a ticket for one day of a test match. (That in itself requires the taking out of a mortgage) So who are these people? Not administrators who want to cut costs.
3 improvement of the game for whom? Why Innovate a masterpiece? Change for change sake more like.
Have the ECB consulted other boards around the world? Are India and Australia on board with this? Or is Test cricket going to have both 4 day and 5 day cricket at the same time? If so it will be pointless to create your other obsession…… namely a Test championship if two different types of test match are being played.
I challenge the ECB to try a 2 year trail period where you keep test cricket at 5 days but insist 100 overs a day are bowled. Prove you can bowl 100 overs in a day between 10.30 and 6.30pm. Let’s see how much cricket is lost to bad weather in that period. How many more bowlers break down with injury after having to bowl more overs in a day.
Finally….. for once in your life tell the truth. It’s about cutting costs for that fifth day isn’t it? Nothing to do with improving the game or making it more accessible.
LikeLiked by 1 person
To be honest Mark, I think the fact that it is mentioned in their analysis gives the game away somewhat. I was at the 2nd and 4th day of the Oval test match this year v SA, knowing full well that I wasn’t that likely to see final action and had somehow fortuitously not brought a ticket for day 3 which was largely rained off. Given the cost of tickets, I have to be selective as I can’t afford to buy much more than I did and time off is also a big issue for me. Some guys I know of did get to go on the Monday and they enjoyed their time as Ali took his hat-trick. I had to settle for Stokes getting his ton on the Friday, TRJ’s debut 5-fer and a good all-round performance from about lunch-time onwoaards.
I would be interested to know if you think 4 day test cricket would be more accessible PKTROLL? As someone who went to two days of test cricket would you find it a better fit?
My fear is they will save on the costs of abolishing the fifth day, and also Jack up the prices for the four days claiming they have to cram 5 days of ticket sales into four. I have always thought day 5 was the most accessible (asuming you can get time off work) The tickets are available and often reduced. Some times very cheap for kids. If you are prepared to accept you won’t get a full day’s play then you can have a great day. No wonder the accountans want to kill it!
I do love the way 39 and shinny toy, who don’t pay to attend test matches, are so cavalier with other people’s money.
These are all financial issues before we get into the basics of whether you are making the actual game on the field worse?
No, I do not think it would be a better fit, nor do I think it would make a difference to what I pay for
A) I have to evaluate my own resources before deciding which days and how much I can spend on a ticket.
B) There is every chance that the game could be disrupted by the weather in this country.
C) And/or should we be playing on a dead track whether or not rain interrupted a 4 day game could result in a real bore draw. Sometimes even a factor such as pitch deterioration can make a 5th day exciting (thinking of Windies recent Leeds victory).
I agree. I think they underestimating what effect bad weather will have. A lot of these test matches will become 3 day draws.
A check around the media shows the Guardian have a PA article on the issue and have enabled comments with some telling the ECB to Foxtrot Oscar allowed to stand. There are some supportive comments – I wouldn’t rule out the possibility some of these are planted. Booth printed the non-denial denial and his objections seem fairly tepid (sort out over-rates and it’d be okay with him, it appears). In addition to those mentioned yesterday, Agnew has Tweeted his opposition but Selvey, Newman, Pringle, #39 and others don’t think it worth commenting on. Perhaps they don’t like other journos setting the agenda, perhaps the memo telling them what to think hasn’t arrived yet…..
Why did this appear yesterday? Of all the MSM writers, Hoult has been most anti-ECB and he has a record of being a channel for leaks for sources (or a source) within the ECB who don’t like what they’re hearing. Maybe it was leaked to spike the plan? Or as a kite-flying exercise? However Hoult’s article and accompanying Tweeting weren’t particularly critical which is concerning.
Finally, I’d caution against accepting the narrative that Tests everywhere else are poorly attended. They are in the WI but this is as much despair at the team than anything else. They are also in the UAE but this is exceptional circumstances. India can depend very much on the ground (I remember the NZ Tests being very well-attended) and the BCCI could do a lot more to encourage spectators if they wanted. In SA, CT sold 80k tickets last time England were there and the weekend at the Wanderers is usually sold out; in Oz, the MCG, SCG and Adelaide are still well-attended with the Gabba and Perth not so good; in NZ, the first days of the Christchurch match against Australia sold out; SL tests in the recent past have been well-attended and, if they are declining, that could be despair at the declining quality of the team and the corruption of the board. The recent attendances in Bangladesh were very disappointing.
In short, it’s a mixed picture but certainly not all doom and gloom. If I felt human imagination to get crowds in had been exhausted, then I’d accept that – but it hasn’t. Boards are unimaginative at best, positively desirous of killing the long-form at worst. Anything that requires a bit more than “pack ’em in, bleed ’em dry and treat ’em like cattle” mixed with crude nationalism seems beyond them.
“Interest in Test cricket is not waning because of its duration. After all, many fewer Tests go into the fifth day now than ever did before…. Test cricket is suffering because of the squeeze on the calendar… Four-day Test cricket will not change this. Only more imaginative and radical solutions will prevent Test cricket’s slide into irrelevance. Cutting 50-over cricket, with the exception of ICC global tournaments, would provide space in the calendar and give a leg-up to first-class cricket. Or, if administrators want to keep three forms of the game, then they have to be brought together in a schedule with an overarching rationale, so as not to force the best players away from the long form of the game.”
(I’d mainly favour the latter – although I’d also scrap stand-alone ODI series and limit ODI series to three matches. I thought the ICC had actually agreed on a three ODI and three T20 format but it seems FMs are just ignoring it if it suits them as usual).
Atherton also absolutely nails it when he says “they will tinker Test cricket to death” and makes it clear that Harrison is on-record supporting four-day Tests (“we will get there in the end” tells you everything you need to know about what Harrison thinks about those who disagree with him).
LikeLiked by 1 person
Mike Atherton can usualy be relied upon for some sense and gravitas. Unlike anything that comes from 39 and Selvey most of the time.
I agree that test matches problems are not 5 days. They are the influx of 20/20 and what that brings which is the love of all action entertainment that now grips the paying public. Cricket reduced to basketball where scoring is constant.
There is little balance between bat and ball in these 20/20 matches. Flat pitches, short boundaries, bigger bats, fielding restrictions. All the fun of the fair, and a hollow feeling afterwards. Might as well get rid of bowlers, and just have bowling machines programmed to deliver length balls that can be smacked 40 rows back in to a swaying, drunken mob singing sweet Caroline.
It’s cricket Jim, but not as we know it.
I got a look at The Times this morning (in the dentist’s waiting room!) and there’s a small article by Ammon saying the decision for four- or five- days may be left to individual boards.
Who didn’t see that coming? Small boards with no money will pick four days and it will be passed off as “their choice”. I think I’d prefer a central diktat than those sort of weasel tactics.
What next? Poor countries can stop football matches at 70 mins when the cash runs out? Golfers from poor nations play only 15 holes? No five-set tennis matches unless you come from a nation in the G20?
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m more than happy to innovate to make the game better. But this move would unambiguously make the game worse in every way. People talk about debating the “pros and cons” of the idea, but there are literally no pros to discuss.
90 overs is already a long day for both players and spectators, and neither group has any interest in extending that
400 overs is still a significantly shorter game than 450 overs – and there are plenty of great, exciting games every year that have ended after 380-440 overs would have ended in draws
If an occasional game does end in 3 days, so what? It makes no difference whatsoever that there were an additional 2 days scheduled.
Of the four greatest Test matches I’ve seen, only one finished on day four, and that largely due to a scoring rate that would raise eyebrows even now, and a third day I still regard as sui generis in England in my lifetime.
So here, just for fun, are what would be the potted scorecards of the other three:
Australia 401-9 dec drew with England 174 and 351-9 (Headingley 1981, turned into a sort of Cardiff 2009 with a bit of humpty replacing Brigadier Block)
Australia 490 and 146 drew with West Indies 329 and 85-3 (Bridgetown 1999, a damp squib in spite of Courtney, and I am deprived of my all-time favourite Test innings)
Australia 445 drew with India 171 and 589-4 (Kolkata 2001 becomes a Durban 1999 redux, only with some actual strokeplay instead of Gary Kirsten… oh, and by the by, we still haven’t had a Test won after following on since 1894/95)
I say “just for fun”, but I suspect this is the only way of grinding down the absolute pig ignorance of Empty Suit and Costcutter, and shutting up the *wilful* (and therefore even less forgivable) ignorance of #39 and Shiny Toy. I don’t believe the course of any of these matches would have been changed by the knowledge that they would finish on day four, i.e. they would all have ended in draws, perhaps remembered for the odd performance but not for their pulsating narratives and astonishing climaxes.
Vaughan in particular should know better. True, all three results in 2005 were achieved on day four (including the aforementioned Edgbaston match), but you chop out day five at Old Trafford and The Oval and I don’t believe the 2005 Ashes stands above all other series. He would not have had time to force anything close to a result at OT, thanks to the rain on Saturday, and The Oval ends with Aussies wearing sunglasses, barely two completed innings and everyone moaning about scheduling the series (anti-)climax for mid-September.
It has absolutely BUGGER ALL to do with “tradition”, and everything to do with Test cricket providing something no other sport in the world has been able to.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Some other recent classics that would never have been:
1) Adelaide 2011/12 – SA heroically hold out for 50 overs to secure a draw!
2) Cape Town 2014 – Ryan Harris doesn’t take the last wicket with 9 balls to spare to win the series 2-1 because he’s already on the flight home.
3) Galle 2014/15 – forget about an end like this….
LikeLiked by 1 person
Headingley 2014 – we’d have been tut tutting about that performance in the field but we wouldn’t have been left moaning about a series loss.
Lord’s 2014 – six inches of carry would never have entered our lexicon. It would have been bore draw everyone and thanks for coming.
NZ, Lord’s 2015 – Stokes would presumable not have made his impact, Cook’s fabulous 162 would not have rescued his team and a Day 5 crowd that packed out Lord’s would have been having another international cricket-free Bank Holiday.
LikeLiked by 1 person
2005 I know we go on about it on here, but no Oval final day. No Manchester final day with Aus hanging on in the last over. Both games ended in a draw but huge drama.
Both will now be consigned to the rubbish bin of history. Along with a number of other great games. Thanks a lot empty suit, can’t you go and sell burgers and fries with a paper hat? and supermarket Arsehole. Napoleon said we were a bunch of shopkeepers. Now they are running a sport? Can’t you go back to working out how many eggs you need on a Saturday and how bent the cucumbers should be. And other such important issues. Just fuck off and leave our sport alone.
And of course, we must never forget the 0-0 draw between England and South Africa in 2004/05. England were probably only 10 overs from winning the first Test in PE, and were hanging on 5 down in the third at Cape Town. Great fightback in the second at Durban though nowhere near a result, and the fourth and fifth were non-events: Centurion was rain-affected and Johannesburg far too close on first innings for anyone to transform things in the time available.
Shame really, after such an eventful ODI series.
In 1984 the West Indies would have been denied going 2 up at Lord’s as England finished on top. Dash the restrictions. A 5th day might have seen the visitors under pressure.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is a little devil’s advocate – two issues cricket has long had for the great unwashed:
1. It’s hard to understand (ask my wife)
2. Many would like a result after sitting watching for hours
T20 in particular addresses those issues, especially as the finer points of cricket don’t feature. I will/do watch ODIs and saw much of yesterday, until Gayle got out and then I gave it up.
I don’t like the bloke but thought Anderson was excellent behind the mike. I found him very informative and enjoyed Athers picking his brains about how the modern player thinks and works out tactics. While a little relaxed about the 4 day idea, Jimmy did say that the most memorable Tests he’s played were all 5 day down to the wire ones.