Why 4-Day Test Matches Will Almost Certainly Get The Nod
Does the proposal to reduce Test match cricket from five days to four sound familiar?
It should, it’s happening everywhere. Test cricket is the latest sport across the globe hypothesising about the notion of making its game shorter, sharper, punchier and, supposedly, more appealing to younger fans.
Just last month the AFL announced it was considering reducing its half time interval, down from 20 minutes to 10, but more significant were comments from AFL heavyweights such as Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson that "our whole game goes for far too long".
The sport of tennis, too, has been tinkering with its game for years to hurry it along. Last year, the Australian Open and Wimbledon introduced final set tie-breaks to stop matches going on and on and on.
It also limited the time players can take between serves and have even trialled ‘fast four tennis’ for events such as the Next Gen ATP Finals, where to win a set players simply need to be the first to win four games, not six.
These changes are always resisted by traditionalists who fear new trends, and consumer habits, will ultimately corrupt the sports they love. Indian captain, Virat Kohli, is one of them, worrying that reducing Tests by a day will simply be the first domino to fall in the demise of Test cricket. Kohli’s concern is that four-day Tests will become three and worse, will lead to “Test cricket disappearing.”
Yet South Africa has come out in support of four-day Test matches and England has said it will support the idea after 2023. Australia is also seriously considering giving it the tick of approval.
Whether we like it or not, the decision will come down to money -- it usually always does. Given most of the money sports need to survive comes from the media companies who produce, package and disseminate the sports product, their input carries significant weight. Importantly, they are concerned with what the consumer wants -- after all, for a media organisation a sport is only worth purchasing if it is popular with the public, can be packaged in a way that appeals to them and is affordable to produce.
And, make no mistake; five day Test Cricket is expensive. By the time Channel Nine lost the media rights to Australia’s summer of cricket, it was making up to a $40 million dollar loss per year, unable to recoup the expense of purchasing and producing the sport from advertising revenues.
In the UK, Test cricket is not available on free-to-air TV, largely because the free-to-air broadcasters don’t want it. A recent push to see the long form of the game return to free to air television was met with hostility from the ECB Chairman, Colin Graves, who believes the move would cost the game more than £25million a year.
According to Graves, “The cost to do a Test is astronomical for a broadcaster, around £1m, so there won't be a queue... If any government starts saying free-to-air has to happen, they are going to take a chunk of money out of English cricket.”
While the most recent broadcasting rights negotiated by Cricket Australia with Fox Sports and Channel Seven netted the sports organisation a cool $1.182 billion, it was the more television-friendly Big Bash League that held most appeal to the broadcasters.
In 2017, then-Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland told The Grade Cricketer podcast, Test cricket is “just not commercially viable” in some parts of the world, highlighting that “… if you go to India… the current evaluations on five days of Test cricket is exactly the same on the evaluation of a three-hour T20 international match.”
It is this kind of commercial value generated by T20 competitions around the world that has some fans, and even players, turning their back on Test cricket in favour of the shorter form of the game -- after all, money talks.
The idea is that four-day Test cricket will make the game a more appealing ‘entertainment product’, with more aggressive batting, field placements and declarations resulting in quicker runs, more wickets and overall, more action, more often.
Whether this works is yet to be seen, but my guess is that we’re not too far away from finding out.