The fifth day
The metaphor of Test cricket as a dying patient was first heard when an Australian businessman brought bright colours and floodlights to cricket’s landscape. The moaning of the old school fans grew louder after the advent of T20 cricket. It might get deafening in case the soon to be launched format — The Hundred — flourishes. Sure, Test cricket is not in the best of health. But the magic cure to the ailments afflicting it is not by compressing it to four days, an alternative the world body is seriously considering.
The suggested shift, its proponents argue, would free up space on the international calendar, bring greater certainty to boards and broadcasters, enliven the dull phases of the game and reduce players’ workload. About 68 per cent of five-day games end in four or fewer days anyway. Yet, it is also true that everything in the game is planned with the fifth day in mind. There’s also an undulating romance about the fifth day — a test of batsmen’s nimble feet, icy veins and dexterous footwork on a subcontinental turner against a rampaging spinner, lower-order batsman braving the odds to force a draw, or the pitch suddenly cracking up, and slow-burning drama exploding to a nail-biting finish.
The arguments of calendar decongestion and workload reduction are but a myth, as it would only create space for more lucrative white-ball activities. There would be more financial windfall for the boards, but Test cricket should not be held hostage for their avarice. Also, longer days might not satisfy the stated goal of reducing workload for the players — rather, it could be just the opposite. It might be better to mercy-kill the dying patient instead of killing its very soul.