None for four

Brevity and quicksilver processes constitute a raging trend be it Twitter or two-minute noodles. It is in sync with the current era notorious for its shrinking attention spans and paucity of time. Organised sport too isn’t immune from this need to shorten formats. In this universe of instant gratification, Test cricket with its five-day schedule and breaks for lunch and tea, might seem an anachronism. It may boggle the mind that there were timeless Tests in the past during which a contest stretched beyond five days till a result was arrived at. That phase ended in 1939 as visiting squads were constrained by the urgency to catch a ship back home. Since those days of the slow life, cricket evolved and Tests now have two raucous siblings in One Day Internationals and Twenty20s, where a result is inevitable and the thrills, however transitory, seem limitless in these abridged formats. ODIs and T20s draw in the crowds and sponsors while Tests are now seen as an ageing matriarch lost to nostalgia and the prospect of ever-dwindling revenues. In a bid to bolster cricket’s original form, the International Cricket Council (ICC), is mulling over four-day Tests from 2023. Cold logic has trumped relevance and it is a move that will destroy the sanctity of Tests and all that it stood for.

The tussle spread over five days is considered as the ultimate benchmark for judging cricketing greatness. Batsmen have to cope with fast bowlers on a fresh first day pitch and also counter wily spinners on a wearing surface on the fifth day. The action gathers steam over four days before a spectacular combustion on the concluding day. Yes, in recent times many Tests have finished within three or four days and broadcasting companies that spend top-dollar for telecast rights, have to craft studio-analysis to justify their ad-inventory. Another factor is that the ICC is keen to create more space for various T20 leagues ranging from the Indian Premier League to the Big Bash in Australia besides supporting the World Cup for Twenty20s. However, a four-day Test will lack character. Imagine what would have happened during that epochal March in the summer of 2001 at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens where V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh inspired India to stun Steve Waugh’s Australians. If that Test had ended as a mere draw in four days, Indian cricket may not have progressed over the last decade-and-a-half. A five-day Test is the acme, a four-day one will slowly blur the distinction with limited overs cricket and it is a clear and present danger that players such as Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Virat Kohli have recognised. It is time the ICC woke up to this reality.

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