England news March 31, 2015

Graves lobbies for four-day Tests

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Are four-day Tests feasible ?

Colin Graves, the incoming ECB chairman, has voiced his personal approval for four-day Test cricket in a move that signals nothing is sacred as he prepares his attempts to modernise professional cricket in England.

Graves chose to reveal all to one of the bastions of traditionalism - the MCC website - as he proposed the first of what will be several radical proposals which he believes will reinvigorate English cricket, make it more financially viable and put it more in tune with the culture of the times.

The suggestion of four-day Tests was floated in a wide-ranging ECB discussion document that was exclusively revealed by ESPNcricinfo last month, but this is the first time that Graves has admitted he personally supports what would be the biggest change to international cricket in modern times.

English Test crowds still remain relatively healthy, but increasingly there are disturbing signs that the virus of dwindling Test attendances is beginning to eat into Test attendances outside London.

Graves told the MCC website, lords.org: "Personally, I think we should look at four-day Test cricket and play 105 overs a day starting at 10.30 in the morning, and finish when you finish as all the grounds now have lights," he said.

"Every Test match would start on a Thursday, with Thursday and Friday being corporate days and then Saturday and Sunday the family days.

"From a cost point of view you'd lose that fifth day, which would save a hell of a lot of money from the ground's point of view and the broadcasters. I would look at that. In reality, there's not many people who turn up and watch it on the fifth day."

Graves' ambitions for 105 overs a day would lose only 30 overs on the current five-day minimum of 450 overs, but they sound somewhat idealistic. Although a rate of less than 18 overs an hour in a six-hour day seems just about feasible, even for the modern game, Test matches routinely expand into overtime just to complete 90. An ODI, which pretty much feels as long as cricket can manage, stretches to 100.

A preponderance of pace bowlers, lengthy stoppages for tactical discussions, drinks breaks running overtime, donning of protective equipment on the field, and a generally dilatory approach all contribute to a Test over rate that has been around 15 overs an hour now for a generation.

The revelation that the ECB was even mooting four-day Tests from Test purists worldwide. But whether such a move would make Tests more profitable, and would receive a favourable reaction from a greater number of spectators, remains relatively unexplored.

Cricket would also lose one of its enduring charms: the gradual deterioration of a pitch that only really begins to turn sharply on the final two days.

Graves, whose five-year term begins on May 15, will begin to promote his views when he is a guest at the MCC World Cricket Committee, where he has been invited to speak this July.

His determination that cricket moves with the times, and does not become isolated from the culture of the nation, is also seen in his driving forward of discussions about a more high-profile Twenty20 tournament in England that would be a real competitor to the IPL and the Big Bash League in Australia.

"Let's look forward, let's look at what the public wants because we are in the entertainment business and that's what we've got to remember," he said.

It is a message that he will ram home repeatedly in the coming months.

Four-day Tests remain likely to be a battle that Graves loses - at least in the short term - but his willingness to think radically, based on an assessment of what the public wants, displays a willingness to embrace change, at 67, that has long been beyond the ken of cricket administrators in England.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

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