South Africa Vs England: What if this was a four-day Test?

Cricket Sports News

Shared News| January 7, 2020 8:08:02 am
Ben Stokes and Joe Root appeal for the wicket of Pieter Malan on Day Four. (Reuters)

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It’s the waiting, silly. The death of hope or the exuberance of a triumph. For the players and for the fans – those contrasting emotions that lingers on. The more that wait is stretched, more the emotion cranks up. If the four-day Test proposal was in effect, the game between South Africa and England would have ended tamely on the third day. Ben Stokes wouldn’t have turned his imperious self on the fourth day to set up the game for England and Pieter Malan’s gutsy crawl that has led to his first fifty would not have probably even be needed.

One could argue — and not without merit — that the game wouldn’t have gone on in the similar vein if it was played with the knowledge that it was going to be a four-day affair. England wouldn’t have needed to set a target of 438 before declaring. They wouldn’t have batted at all on the fourth day and started to throw the bats around on third afternoon before probably declaring in the last session itself – giving them four sessions to bowl out South Africa.

One could also extend that argument further and say in a four-day world, even the pitches preparation could change drastically. A subcontinental team, if they wish to attack with spin, can start the game on an underprepared track – serve a traditional second-evening feel on the first morning itself. Or England, if they are confident of their own batsmen, can prepare an overtly green track.

Here is the question: But why make them do all those things – rush through play or tinker with pitches? To cut out one day? It’s not as if four days won’t feel long and dreary during a boring draw. Why should we create a problem and then try fix it?

If the commerce is going to alter the art, one then has to find a way to still retain that essence of a contest in a reduced time package. The only way one can make it a four-day affair if they find a way to get the teams to bowl more balls in a day. Cut out the break times – dispense with the tea break — to have longer sessions in this high-fitness era. Bring back 8-ball overs to squeeze in more balls in a day.

So that the key elements of a Test contest is still retained in a four-day package – the extended contest between bat and ball, the appreciation of the game in all its complexities that mirrors life – the open-ended wait, the skills, the wearing of a pitch. Suggestions like 100-overs per innings alter the soul of the unlimited nature of a Test. Why would we want every format to mirror the other?

All that tinkering won’t be easy, of course. It would need consensus from players, change in mindset, willingness to take more punishment on body (but is it feasible for a long session to play out in heat?). But if the broadcast networks, that fund the game, insist on a four-day scenario, then cutting just one day won’t do the trick. A manic rehaul of a Test-match day needs to be envisioned.

No scones and tea breaks, no siestas, more balls in a day – perhaps in that scenario South Africa and England might still be going into a fourth and final day with the same level of anticipation and anxiety.

But the important factor to be still considered is the one raised last year by the Australian cricket writer Gideon Haigh — is cutting out a day a “pseudo-solution to a non-existent problem”?