Wed, 20 Mar 2019

Four-day Tests loom in Australia's future

ESPNCricInfo
15 Dec 2018, 15:42 GMT+10

12:02 AM ET

A November 2020 home fixture against Afghanistan looms as a likely rehearsal for four-day Test matches in Australia, as the Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts declared the governing body and other nations needed to be more open to the concept beyond the end of the first two editions of the World Test Championship from 2019 to 2023.

Television ratings for the first Test against India in Adelaide, the inaugural home Test under the new dual broadcast deal with Fox Sports and Seven, spiked noticeably on the Sunday, a day that would likely become the consistent final day of matches should four-day Tests become more prevalent. The two networks gained a combined audience of 1.261 million during the third session, comfortably the largest of the match.

Roberts, who replaced James Sutherland as CA chief executive in October, said that the combination of audience sizes, easing of scheduling squeezes, and Test cricket's own history of variable playing hours made the four-day question a serious one for all administrators, particularly for Tests played outside the championship locked into five-day matches.

"Outside the Test Championship that's the opportunity," Roberts told SEN Radio. "The Test Championship is five-day Test cricket out to 2021, so that doesn't change, but outside of that there are other possibilities to consider and beyond that, beyond 2021 what it might look like. There's a bit to be said for it isn't there, and it's certainly something I think we need to be open-minded to down the track.

"The average duration of a Test match is just a shade over four days and certainly without jumping to conclusions that that is the right solution, it is one possibility we've got to be open to. There's been timeless Tests over the years, we know there were even three-day Tests, so Test cricket has not been five days in duration forever, and I think the concept of four days going forward is something we need to be open to without jumping to conclusions."

Australia entered into discussions with Ireland about playing an inaugural Test ahead of next year's Ashes series before being outmanoeuvred by the ECB, which scheduled a Test against Ireland at Lord's by way of England's own preparation for the same series. The Afghanistan Test, scheduled for November 2020 in the lead-up to the next home series against India, would provide an ideal chance to try the shorter match, probably played over around 100 overs per day.

A crowd of 20,641 turned up to Perth Stadium for the first day of the second Test against India, comfortably less than half the venue's cavernous 60,000 capacity. While claiming that the crowd was greater than the capacity of the venerable WACA Ground across the Swan River - larger attendances were recorded for each of the first three days of last year's Ashes Test - Roberts was unable to answer why the premium space behind the bowler's arm at the Justin Langer Stand end of the stadium had been shut. This has meant that only members have been able to watch play from that vantage point.

"Good question and I don't have an answer to that one right now," Roberts said. "I'm not familiar with the specific details as to how level 5 operates and can you operate sections at a time. I don't know the answer to that but it's a good question as you look at it from the box here, a brilliant view down the wicket from where we're sitting. They're the sorts of things that we always need to consider, how many people can we get behind the bowler's arm. So it's a good question and unfortunately I don't have a good answer for you.

"The facts are we had about 3,000-4,000 spare seats in the shade that were available for people who required them. In the event that those were used and we needed more we had plans to immediately open level five as well. We judged that based on need and there were enough seats in the shade based on need and in the event we ran out of those, then level five was being opened up, so there was a lot of talk about it. But in terms of the facts of that one, there were more seats available in the shade.

"I wouldn't suggest that was an economic decision, it was a practical decision yesterday in terms of the most practical way to operate the stadium. In the event there was need then there was absolutely no opposition from a CA perspective to opening up level 5. There's always a balance and we're conscious that things will never be perfect for absolutely every individual at a stadium, but certainly we seek to optimise them as much as we can."

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