The ICC is likely to grant Test status to the four-day match between South Africa and Zimbabwe on Boxing Day, but strictly as a “trial” exercise. A final decision on Cricket South Africa’s request that the experimental day-night fixture in Port Elizabeth be considered a Test will be taken at the ICC board meeting in Auckland in October.
Four-day Tests are being seen as one of the solutions to make the longest format more viable and attractive in an age where Twenty20 has become the most popular version of the game. However, the ICC’s Cricket Committee – the forum primarily entrusted with keeping the sport relevant – has not been in favour of reducing the length of Tests from five days to four.
In 2015, the Cricket Committee, chaired by former India captain Anil Kumble, opposed the idea of four-day Tests. The ICC Chief Executives’ Committee (CEC) and the top brass of the ICC management, however, had voiced support for four-day Tests. In June this year, the Cricket Committee said that while its primary focus will remain on developing cricket structures it was not against experimenting with four-day Test cricket, but without any commitment. According to people involved in the discussions, the support for four-day Test cricket was growing, though there was “considerable reluctance from traditionalists”.
The game’s administrators are inclined towards four-day Tests because the concept helps ease their biggest problem: scheduling. With domestic Twenty20 leagues taking up a large part of the calendar, boards have been struggling to find enough time for full international tours. Earlier this week CSA and the BCCI, after months of deliberation, agreed to reduce the Test series from four to three matches and play an extra – sixth – ODI on India’s tour to South Africa in January.
Haroon Lorgat, CSA’s chief executive officer, is a firm supporter of four-day Tests, especially as a way to induct Ireland and Afghanistan into the fold. “We recognise that there is a place for higher-ranked teams to play the lower-ranked teams, or even the lower-ranked teams among themselves, in four-day Test match cricket,” Lorgat told ESPNcricinfo. “I hope that apart from being a trial, we could have it as a permanent arrangement.”
It is understood that administrators are trying to work towards a resolution that would allow Full Members to decide between themselves whether a Test should be four or five days. Administrators like Lorgat and ECB chief executive Tom Harrison feel there is a need for the cricketing fraternity to adapt to the changing demands of the consumer.
The stance of the players, the biggest stakeholders in the game, is not yet clear. Last year, in an annual survey conducted by the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations, they gave the idea a thumbs down.
Lorgat, however, was confident. He said he had checked with the South African team management and they were “supportive” of the idea of a four-day Test against Zimbabwe in December.