With so many One-day Internationals, Twenty20 and now T-10 leagues, few people like to watch Test matches as they are spread over five days.
People want entertaining cricket and result in quick time as they don’t have time to sit and watch a match for five days either in ground or at home on TV.
Five-day Tests could be absorbing if the two teams are equally strong. If only one team is strong, Test matches are mostly completed before the stipulated time and it’s neither attracting for the viewers nor beneficial for the sponsors.
In September this year, South African Cricket Board (CSA) announced a four-day Test plan against Zimbabwe from Boxing Day with a hope that International Cricket Council (ICC) will give it official Test status.
In October, ICC in its board meeting in Auckland approved the CSA plan on trial basis until the 2019 World Cup. ICC Chief Executive David Richardson said that any team that wants to play four-day Test can do so. He expected the shortened version will be beneficial, especially to the lower-ranked Test teams.
In 2015, the ICC Chief Executives’ Committee (CEC) and the top ICC management had supported four-day Tests plan but the ICC Cricket Committee, chaired by former India captain Anil Kumble, opposed the idea.
Cutting Test matches to four days is the need of the hour. Due to too many T20 leagues around the year, boards have been struggling to find enough space for full international tours.
Four-day Tests are being seen as one of the solutions to make the longest format acceptable and attractive in presence of ODIs and Twenty20.
Four-day Tests will also provide the new Test playing countries Ireland and Afghanistan more opportunities to play the longer version of the game against experienced opponents.
The first ever four-day day-night pink-ball Test is to be played in Port Elizabeth from December 26 to 29.
Currently, according to ICC Test match playing conditions, the Test match consists of five days and 90 overs are to be bowled in a day. In four-day Test, a minimum of 98 overs will have to be bowled in a day.
To accommodate the extra overs, playing hours will be six and a half instead of six. If a team fails to complete overs in the allotted time, an extra 30 minutes are to be given to the fielding side to complete the minimum required overs of each day.
According to the revised conditions, in a four-day Test, a lead of 150 will be enough to enforce the follow-on. The reduced follow-on mark is already applied in four-day first-class cricket.
Rain will affect four-day Tests more because there will be much less opportunity to cover up for the lost overs, but a reserve day could be a good solution for this problem.
Another disadvantage with four-day Tests will be the ineffectiveness of spinners. The pitch might not break enough in four days. Spinners mostly play an important role on the fifty day.
To get result in a four-day Test, captains will have to be more aggressive. They will have to make bold declaring decisions.
The first four-day Test will be important also because of the return of South Africa’s all-time greats AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn. de Villiers last played a Test in January 2016. Steyn has also been out of action due to a shoulder injury that occurred in Perth last year.
The Test will be a preparation for South Africa as they will host India for three Tests, six ODIs and three T20Is next month.