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‘This is a fundamental, existential moment for the Test game’ – Wisden writers debate four-day Test cricket

by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

With the ICC cricket committee set to meet in March to discuss whether World Test Championship matches should be four-day affairs from 2023 onwards, debate has raged across the world on the motives and implications behind the idea.

On the latest Wisden Cricket Weekly podcast, Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief Phil Walker, WCM magazine editor Jo Harman, regular host Yas Rana and Wisden writer Ben Gardner shared their views on the subject. Here’s a little taster of their discussion.

PW: The question is how much energy there will be to push this through. Personally, I have mixed feelings on it. I’m not emotionally tied to five-day cricket. I can see the arguments for four-day cricket in the modern game. As an overriding thought, I think to make it mandatory four-day cricket without properly trialling this idea in big games over the next two years or so – you can’t reverse it, you can’t go back.

This is a fundamental, existential moment for the Test-match game. If we were were to blunder into it without due consideration and without properly trialling these ideas, in big fixtures as well, then I think we’re playing havoc with the most precious thing we’ve got.

YR: I think a lot of the arguments for five-day Test cricket don’t really stand if you scrutinise them at all. Also, we have a very, very different perspective watching our cricket in England, where we sell out most days of Test cricket.

If you look outside the ‘big three’ [England, Australia and India], loads of Test series are only two-match series, and one of the arguments for four-day Test matches is that it’s more financially sustainable to have more of them. So if you’re really, really worried about the long-term future of Test cricket, you can see the argument for having more four-day Tests.

JH: For me that’s the only reason that stacks up. I’d be really interested to see what the numbers are – on what savings boards would make from having four-day Tests rather than five-day Tests, and the damage that five-day Test matches are doing to other nations. As it stands, it’s negotiable if you want to have four-day Tests; if both boards agree, that works for me.

I don’t feel particularly wedded traditionally to five-day Tests. But I want that flexibility there – to make it mandatory makes no sense. We’ve had a pretty good example today of a match that could have been ruined if it was a four-day Test rather than a five-day Test. Obviously teams would play differently and we can’t say exactly how it would have played out, but there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have had enough overs to make the game what it was today.

One of the arguments I’ve seen is that it makes Test cricket more appealing to fans. I just don’t buy that at all. I don’t really see how that stacks up. Rob Key said he hasn’t heard anyone who doesn’t like Test cricket who would like it if was four days rather than five and I completely agree with that point of view.

BG: I don’t really buy it from a philosophical point of view, that ‘now it’s four days – now it’s for me’. But I think you would actually get more finishes like today if you played four-day Tests as the norm, rather than five-day Tests. So few Tests go this late on day five. You would get more teams having to do things creatively to get a win or battling late on day four to get a win.

Listen to the full debate below. Also available on Spotify and the Podcast app.

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