Four day Test Matches: are they the way of the future?

In September of this year, South Africa announced they would play an inaugural four day Test Match during the upcoming summer season, contested against Zimbabwe. The first ever ‘four-dayer’ will take place in Port Elizabeth, and will run from the 26th-29th of December.

How will it work?

The condensed Test Match will have a number of minor alterations to normal, five day playing conditions. The most pertinent is the length of the days play, which will be slightly longer to compensate for the lack of a fifth day. 98 overs will be the minimum number of overs bowled per day, eight more than the 90 which are required in five-day cricket. This means that the total number of overs bowled in a four day test should be 390, only 60 below the 450 bowled in the longer form.

The extra overs will be squeezed in throughout the day. The first session at Port Elizabeth will be two hours and fifteen minutes, rather than the customary two hours flat, and the second session will be the same. The third session will remain two hours long, with the possibility to extend up to half an hour to complete remaining overs.

There is also a minor alteration in the follow-on mark; teams will need a lead of just 150 in the first innings to ask their opponents to bat again, rather than 200. Other than that though, the match will largely run as per a normal Test Match.

What does it mean?

There are numerous potential benefits to limiting Test Match cricket to just four days. With the increasing popularity of shorter form cricket, Test Matches have, for many, taken a back seat. Though the five-day format is certainly the greatest test of skill demanded by any of the formats, our increasingly shortening attention spans mean it is, unfortunately, becoming a redundant form of cricket in some parts of the world.

Shortening the matches has the capacity to re-invigorate the format, and perhaps bring back some supporters who were put off by the drawn out nature of five-day Tests. Four days is not hugely dissimilar to five, you might argue, and you’d be right, but there will inevitably be changes to the way the game is played in this new format.

The extra overs within a day basically squeezes the same product into a shorter period of time. As well, the four day test provides schedulers with the option of running half of the Test over the weekend. A game starting on Thursday will finish on Sunday rather than Monday, allowing for maximum viewership when the game is actually being played.

Most importantly, though, the reduced number of overs will have an impact on the way teams play. With 60 less overs over the course of the Test Match, this format will likely see a reduction in meandering first and second innings, which are declared at 7/375 after 150 gruelling overs. Whereas in five day cricket you may still stand a chance of earning victory after an innings like that, with just 390 overs to be played in the match such an innings would spell an almost certain draw. As a result, teams will likely be more aggressive in their batting and their bowling from the outset, knowing that they need to push the issue to gain a result, and that if things go wrong, they will more easily be able to play for a draw.

Will it stay?

So far there has been moderate interest from other Test Playing nations in the format. South Africa and Zimbabwe have evidently shown a willingness to embrace it, acting as pioneers for the form. England, too, have shown some interest, with the English Cricket Board hoping to cut future Test Matches to four days after the 2019 series. Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland has shown minimal interest in the shortened form, but there is plenty of noise about it from other high-profile figures in Australian cricket.

Many have stated that it could be a good opportunity for new Test Playing Nations, Afghanistan and Ireland. The shortened format would be logical for these teams given their lack of experience in the longest form of the game, and many long-term Test Nations may look to trial four-day tests against them.

With Test Cricket needing an injection of life, four day Test Matches could well be the way of the future. Whether they will take over from five-dayers remains to be seen, but there are certainly numerous benefits to them. More excitement is seemingly required for Test’s to compete with the more ‘exciting’ T20 format, and this could be the way to do it. Perhaps we will see far too many draws, and no increase in interest in the initial games, but regardless, it is certainly an idea worth pursuing.