First of all, Happy New Year. 2020 is off to a real old flyer if the antics of the people running the game are anything to go by. We could be in for a long year.
Yes, it is a simple post to write. A couple of years ago the four day test was mooted as a solution to a problem that we didn’t know existed – that test cricket was too long. We have not been blind to the fact that they are expensive matches to put on and they aren’t brilliantly supported in various parts of the world, but naturally the people at fault aren’t the schedulers who have knackered the players out from over-playing in all formats, it’s not the fault of the players who have brought the standard of the game down to levels I have a hard time remembering, and it’s not the fault of TV companies who will bid up the cost of TV rights, and want to maximise their advertising revenue. No, it’s your fault. The dyed-in-the-wool lover of test match cricket. YOU just don’t understand.
Look, I could possibly give four day test cricket a hearing if it wasn’t so flaming stupid, if the people proposing it were being honest with us. But that would never do. They would much rather insult our intelligence. All World Test Championship cricket is proposed to be four days, and hey, they are going to bowl more overs in the day. They are seriously proposing that the punters will get 98 overs in a day. If this had been imposed on the second day of the recent test match at Centurion, that would mean playing until two hours after the scheduled close. Ignore the absolutely obvious – you won’t be getting 98 overs in a day unless we have all day-night tests with the play scheduled to start as if it were a day test – but what is that going to do to the quality of play at the end of the day. 6 and a half hours has the players knackered if they’ve been out in 35 degree heat, so, hell, eff it, keep them out for a couple of hours more, why don’t you! And you, the long-suffering fan, you’ll be kept out for a couple of hours more too. Hell, that’s what we want!
Who is demanding this change? Is it the fans? Well, no. I don’t know many people out there who think the main problem with test cricket is its length. The main problem is it is uncompetitive, too in favour of the home team, poor quality, and not enough matches for lower ranked teams as the Big 3 hoover all the cash up and ignore the underlying game. The only thing that lures fans in many countries is limited overs and T20 cricket. Instead of trying to get both to co-exist with test cricket, the authorities deal in the only language they understand. Money. The players aren’t absolved of this too. They frequently state that they want to be test legends, but they wouldn’t trade it for an IPL gig, that’s for certain.
Test cricket does not move at the pace of County Championship cricket which gets in 98 overs most days it doesn’t rain. There are five minute drinks breaks, endless reviews, times to change stuck advertising hoardings. A need to get in the required adverts. England don’t make a secret that they never hope to bowl 15 overs an hour. Selecting five seamers for two tests on the trot showed they don’t care about a dog that doesn’t have teeth.
I’ve been writing some “On This Day” pieces for the Extra Bits (first one here), and really enjoying going through some of the history. Tests have never really been fixed in length, and I’m coming across timeless tests and shorter test matches – but they actually bowled many, many more overs than now. The history makes the sport. The legends. I’ve got Arthur Mailey tomorrow (the only Aussie to take 9 wickets in an Ashes test innings), Kapil Dev on Monday and many stories in between. Test cricket runs through it. Endurance. Toughness. Poor records, great records. Never really forced, most earned. It’s great, but it doesn’t make money here and now. It’s all Premier Leagues. How did that South African one finish? Anyone give a flying one other than their nearest and dearest? Won’t be much T20 in “On This Day”.
It’s easy to poke holes in four day tests, and the logic behind it, but as my colleagues said on Twitter, this is a principle we should adhere to:
Vaughan has been the most prominent proponent of this utter horseshit for a while now, and he is saying it will die without these benefactors coming in to save it. It is dying now because your beloved benefactors and administrators are starving it of oxygen with incessant T20 bilge (yeah, I know people like it, but is it memorable if there are millions of bloody games). If you are struggling to attract people to it due to the change in working environments now, then get creative. People want to see Virat bat in any conditions. Give them a chance. Throw the gates open. Yes, SUBSIDISE it, and if you aren’t subsidising it enough, use the money to prop it up in all countries, not pay players even more for less.
I have no doubt that in 20 years, test cricket will be on its knees. I would hope the authorities would actually care and try to save it, but they are too money obsessed to bother. The Ashes would be an anachronism, maybe carrying on as some peculiar spectacle until we get bored of that. And the authorities, with the ECB pushing over themselves, and not, of course, listening to their paying customers who can just get to hell in their eyes, to say Yes, Yes, Yes (they need these players to play in their lovely Hundred vanity project), we’re stuffed. As I have said for many, many years, I told you so. Do you really think Graves (CBE) and Harrison give a shit what you think? Do you think old #justsaying gives an absolute stuff about anyone who tells him he is wrong. Imagine a supposed 98 over day in Abu Dhabi? A long day in Chennai or Durban? We might be a bit better off with our long summer days, if it doesn’t rain, but the closer to the Equator, or for northern hemisphere teams who play in cooler months, are we thinking this through? Of course not.
Rainy Days – Oh yes. Rain. So we have a closely fought test match. Team 1 has spent Day 1 accumulating tough runs, and finish the day at 245 for 8. They get dismissed for 270-odd but then skittle out the opposition for 180 the following day, but are 50 for 3 at the end of Day 2. It then rains all day on Day 3. 150 ahead with 98 overs to bowl on Day 4. You think the team with the advantage is going to throw that up the wall by allowing the other team a sniff? They’re going to make the game safe first. They’ve worked hard for an advantage so why give it away. Giving advantages up are not what test cricket is about. So they’ll play it safe, and get 300 ahead and give themselves a session to bowl the opposition out. Whereas a Day 5 keeps the game going.
Four day tests would have ended the How Did We Lose In Adelaide test in a bore draw – unless England declared on 450. Old Trafford 2005 would have been killed by Saturday’s rain. The Oval? KP? No, rain on days 2,3 and 4 would have rendered an historic occasion a damp dull washout. Those famous rearguards at Cardiff, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Centurion… no interest. The great theatre of test cricket is time – the pressure of how long you have left, and the immense feats of endurance. I can’t put it any better than Jack Russell. If you cut the marathon to 20 miles it doesn’t make it a marathon. Test cricket should remain five days. You know it, and deep down, if the authorities cared about the game and not money, they know it too. These are specious people. We’ve known it for ages.
New Zealand and Australia also appear on board. This has the hallmarks of a global stitch-up. You ever feel like we aren’t wanted anymore? Those who support the game now. Because I sure as hell do. The insidious question back will be “do you want it to survive” and I’m inclined to say “no”. Not at this price. Those who claim to be its saviours are its killers. Job’s Comforters. Snake Oil Salesmen.
We’ll be back for a preview of the next test match…. Also on “The Extra Bits” see my “On This Day piece for 1 January ( click here). I’ve written the first seven already, Got a bit of a writing bug today.
Happy New Year….