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Let's leave five-dayers alone, shall we?

The 1966 West Indies series in England saw a record number of spectators, but the profits from the series were pretty low PA Photos

Twenty-two maidens on the trot. One scoring shot in 176 balls. And no, the match didn't take place during the fearful 1950s or the soporific 1960s but in Pallekele less than a fortnight ago.

Then there was Roston Chase at Sabina Park the following week, capping five wickets in an innings in his second Test with a match-saving century against India that coaxed beams aplenty from King Vivi himself. And then there was that thrilling climax at Edgbaston.

As for what links these geographically and contextually disparate feats, need we say any more? Put it this way: had the Saatchi brothers been commissioned to produce an advert promoting the merits of the five-act play, they couldn't have done any better.

Let's rewind 50 years, to Garry Sobers' summer of summers. Record crowds thronged to Lord's and Trent Bridge; come the end of England's four-day dead-rubber stroll at The Oval, aggregate turnstile clicks had swollen to more than 400,000. This, though, was profoundly untypical of the times. The year before and the year after, interest in the dozen Tests against New Zealand, South Africa, India and Pakistan was such that the only attendances deemed fit for public consumption in Wisden were for the two Lord's Tests of 1965.

In keeping with its status as guardian and defender of the game's principles, the yellow brick road led the prosecution. England's Ashes tour of 1962-63 and the Indian venture of 1963-64 were summed up, respectively, as "grim" and "drab". In 1965, editor Norman Preston fulminated against 1964's "commonplace [and] flat" home Ashes series, one that placed far too much emphasis "on the determination not to lose". True, noted Preston, the buoyant West Indians of 1963 did not, for the most part, score any faster, "but they certainly conveyed the impression of enjoying themselves". The solution was radical: "Why not try shorter Tests?"

Nor did the call for brighter cricket let up. In the 1967 Wisden, the Editor's Notes were headlined "English cricket at the crossroads". The paucity of turnstile action was blamed on pretty much everything: poor pitches, low standards, lack of personalities, an absence of vigour and variety. Hell, even an enterprising if ludicrous proposal for a one-day County Championship (the first limited-overs tournament had sputtered into life in 1963) was seriously discussed.

The most significant omen, nevertheless, could be found in the bottom line: despite the Great Garfield, despite Wes and Charlie and Lance and Rohan and Basil and Conrad and Seymour, despite those historic crowds, profits for that 1966 tour were barely half what they had been for the previous West Indies visit.

Fast-forward half a century and what do we find? A world where tours are more accurately described as long weekends and profits are about as newsworthy as an AB de Villiers play-and-miss; a world where bums on seats are often in inverse proportion to the drama and quality of the cricket - and about as relevant as broadcasting fees were in 1966.

"Unless we actually crave a revival in the number of stalemates, to voluntarily shed a day sounds a lot like a suicide note"

And so to the latest wheeze - a Test championship, formally proposed by ICC chief executive Dave Richardson and supported by Anil Kumble and his star-studded ICC Cricket Committee. If it wasn't quite the century's most promising fillip for the planet's most anachronistic and scorned exposition of excellence, that was only because the news broke during a remarkable week that also saw MCC announce that, however belatedly, it was considering regulating the depth of bats and the thickness of their edges.

Those determined to find fault with the attendant plans for promotion and relegation have been predicting an end to West Indies tours of England, but if what Sobers' successors do best in the remaining four-fifths of the century is hit sixes to extraordinary parts, uproot multiple stumps and catch the uncatchable, does it really matter what format they excel in? Caribbean youngsters emboldened by non-cricketing achievers such as Usain Bolt and Trinidad's footballers are now more likely than ever to be inspired by joy, self-expression, immediacy and dynamism than patience, stoicism and cussedness - as June's ODI defeats of South Africa and Australia reaffirmed. As he lounged on his cloud, the late Tony Cozier, whose final years were dominated by despair, would surely have beamed with approval.

Since cricket's not-so swinging sixties, of course, spectator sport has been radically transformed by technology and money, going from being a cheap, reliable schedule-filler to the very foundation stone of the planet's media empires. Its reach has increased an unimaginable number of folds, bringing the very best of the competitive arts to poor villages, far-flung towns and war-ravaged nations, while reducing the actual eyewitnesses to walk-on roles. Indeed, the very notion of spectating has been redefined. And once those clever virtual-reality people get their act together, food and booze proceeds will doubtless go the way of the tour profit.

All in all, then, things could be a great deal worse for the Test match, whose 140th birthday next March makes the old boy the longest-running popular show in the annals of intercontinental ball games, not to mention the most historically multiracial (hard as it is to countenance these days, the British Empire did have the odd redeeming feature), yet simultaneously the most profoundly un-21st century. That it survives at all is a minor miracle.

Let us return, then, to the latest proposed remedies. Understandably Bangladesh have raised objections to a two-division Test circuit, likewise Sri Lanka, even though the quality of the new generation of batsmen and spinners led by Kusal Mendis and Lakshan Sandakan suggests that fears of relegation will prove short-lived. Joining the naysayers is the BCCI, on the basis, as new president Anurag Thakur explained, politician's hat firmly in place, that "the smaller countries will lose out and the BCCI wants to take care of them". Just as it wants, presumably, to take care of business by changing tack and inviting Bangladesh for regular tours. There are worse ways, one supposes, to ensure the minnows continue to vote with India.

As for the baggy greens, David Peever, the Cricket Australia chairman, has thrown his not inconsiderable weight behind two of the cornerstone proposals for revitalisation, the two-tiered structure and day-night contests, yet not, significantly, the notion of four-day Tests. This column is inclined to nod its support with considerable zest.

Switching to 100 overs per day and 400 per match is by no means a preposterous idea. Even for those of us to whom dilatory rates are only irksome when the fielding team is striving to halt a fourth-innings chase, the subtraction of 50 overs need not necessarily be detrimental. Besides, however natural it is to feel irate at being short-changed - and the 120 balls delivered by England in two hours at Edgbaston certainly pushed even us tolerant apologists to breaking point - perhaps too much is made of them in the age of the DRS.

By the same token, however, the elements tease, taunt and torment cricket like no other sport, and unless we actually crave a revival in the number of stalemates, to voluntarily shed a day - particularly when so many Tests are now played during the northern hemisphere's wettest months - sounds a lot like a suicide note.

Which brings us back to those mesmerising passages in Pallekele and Kingston: in neither case - thanks to rain - would the concluding events have occurred had either contest been confined to four days. Come to think of it, all of the most gripping encounters in the annals of Test cricket - Sydney 1894, Brisbane 1960, Headingley 1981, Madras 1986, and Kolkata 2001, each of which resulted in a tie or else victory after following on - have required at least five days. By way of ramming the point home, all bar the Leeds affair required the equivalent of more than 400 six-ball overs.

For further evidence, consider this: of the 60 Tests that have begun since the start of 2015 (up to but not including this week's Zimbabwe-New Zealand affair), 32 have gone into the fifth day. Of the remaining 28, five have involved the three lightweights, West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Here in Limeyland, needless to add, climatic considerations are always uppermost. There is, nonetheless, a faint hint of irony that, while there had never been any need for timeless affairs, this was the last nation to formally extend Tests from four days to five - a reflection of the havoc wrought on uncovered pitches by unseasonal weather. The first season of five-dayers, furthermore, was in 1948 - somewhat surprising given that the previous summer's series against South Africa had produced three decisive results in four days or fewer. That a couple of cracking matches saw time run out doubtless motivated the change.

In the event, three of 1948's five Ashes Tests spanned five days, and although there was a patronising reversion to three for New Zealand's visit the following year - Walter Hadlee's tourists duly repaid such arrogance by drawing all four Tests - five became the norm when West Indies calypsoed into town in 1950 and took the four-set rubber 3-1.

Small wonder, all in all, that a poll published in the latest issue of the Cricketer found 87% of readers voting against the 20% reduction. The stats may not lie about the rise in scoring rates or the prevalence of early finishes, but why take the risk?

"Despite shortening attention spans and alternative attractions," as Mike Brearley reasoned in the Times, "classical music thrives and grows, books are still printed". And the Test match still captivates. Bring on the day-nighters, a formal championship and even two divisions by all means, but do us all a favour and leave the five-act play intact.