Test cricket June 14, 2012

The rest day: long gone, and not missed

As a cricket fan of long standing, I have had the chance to assess many changes in the game

As a cricket fan of long standing, I have had the chance to assess many changes in the game. Some, like the ubiquitous helmets, I regret, because of their visual impact on the game; some, like the passage into oblivion of the Test match rest day, I do not regret at all.

The rest day, normally staged between the third and fourth day's play in a Test, always felt like a cruel interruption of proceedings. The hours and minutes dragged on interminably; it was bad enough that I had to wait a whole sixteen hours for the next day's play to commence; and here I was, expected to wait a whole forty hours. I disliked this interruption with a passion, and wondered aloud -- for anyone that cared to listen -- about why the rest day was felt necessary. (As a youngster, when I learned that rest days in England were invariably Sundays, I speculated that Test cricketers went off to play a game of limited-overs county cricket.)

I have strenuously defended cricket's many breaks -- like lunch and tea, though the modern drinks break seems increasingly silly given the frequent appearance of the twelfth man -- but I doubt that I could have mounted a coherent defense of the rest day even back in its heyday. Somehow, it seemed unreasonable to me that cricketers needed to rest for a whole day after they had gone back to their hotels for a good night's sleep. A fast bowler that had turned in a marathon spell in hot weather? Perhaps. But everyone else? Surely they could hang in there for just another two days?

Back then, the rest day made the sports page disappointingly bland right in the middle of a Test. Rather than feature the latest scores and progression of a fascinatingly poised game, we had more match analysis and speculation, more endless crystal-ball gazing of the kind that continues to drive me nuts whenever television commentators indulge in it. And what if the rest day featured glorious sunshine and the fifth day bad weather, thus ensuring the game was a turgid draw? That was the sort of thing that could really cast a pall over ones mood. (I'm not sure if a Test match I paid attention to had ever suffered this cruel fate.)

I do not remember when the rest day was formally excised from Test cricket; my reaction then was of relief. We could finally get on with the business of moving a Test match toward conclusion. No more scoreless sports page; no more waiting and waiting for the day to hurry up and pass on so we could move on to the fourth day.

In the modern calendar, of course, a rest day would be an unimaginable luxury. This is the era of Tests staged without first-class games as warm up. But even without the pressures of a crammed cricketing calendar, getting rid of the rest day always made for good sense. If six days are to be set aside for a Test, then the sixth should be a backup, never a deliberately enforced break in play.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here