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South Africa players, board divided over four-day Tests

Kagiso Rabada sunk Bangladesh with early strikes on the fifth morning AFP

South Africa's players were not properly consulted about CSA's plans to pioneer four-day Tests, and are not in favour of shortening the format. That may not matter when South Africa host Zimbabwe for a four-day, day-night match, even though the man who initially touted the idea, former CEO Haroon Lorgat, is no longer in charge.

Lorgat left his post last Thursday after his relationship with the CSA board had become untenable but CSA will still petition the ICC to allow them to trial the concept, at the Chief Executives Conference in New Zealand next week. CSA will be represented by Acting CEO Thabang Moreo and president Chris Nenzani, who confirmed the administration's commitment to the cause. "We are an organisation and when the organisation comes up with an idea it is not the product of one person. We as an organisation decided on this," Nenzani said.

However, that organisation did not seek the views of those who will have to make the idea a reality, the players. Lorgat held some discussions with the South African team management when Russell Domingo was still the coach, as far back as August, and were due to have a final consultation with players, which never took place.

For the South African Cricketers' Association, that is a sticking point. "I expressed the same concern to CSA before Haroon left - the fact that there was no proper consultation. There are a lot of cricket aspects involved. It is quite a big change to a format. It's four days and day-night, playing against a team that has never played with a pink ball. It's the combination of four-day and day-night that concerns," Tony Irish, SACA CEO said. "I understand why CSA want to do this. They want to provide content over a period (Boxing Day) where there is traditionally cricket. I am not sure that a four-day, day-night Test against Zimbabwe is the answer."

After the first Test against Bangladesh in Potchefstroom, which South Africa won 84 minutes into the final morning, both captain Faf du Plessis and opening batsman Dean Elgar expressed their desire to keep Test cricket as is.

"I am a fan of five-day Test cricket. I believe the great Test matches have gone to the last hour of the last day on day five. That's what is so special about Test cricket," du Plessis said. "For five days you have to graft it out. Bowlers have to bowl a lot more and batters have to construct much bigger innings. A day five was needed today. If it was a rain off yesterday, it would have been very disappointing so I am a fan of that."

Elgar went as far as to question why Test cricket's traditional make-up is being experimented with. "I'm a five-day Test specialist, and it must stay that way in my opinion. I don't think you should tinker with something that's not broken. If you go and play around the world, Test cricket is followed quite well. If you play in Australia, if you play in England, even if you play in South Africa against the relatively big nations you still get very good crowds. There are other formats that are being experimented with. I don't see why Test cricket should suffer. I am purist when it comes to that. Hopefully the game can have longevity in the five-day format," Elgar said.

Senwes Park, a small venue not regarded as one of the premier grounds in the country and has only hosted one Test before the match against Bangladesh, had a festive atmosphere though it was sparsely attended over five days. For Elgar, that did not lessen the importance of the match or make a case for shorter games, especially as South Africa do not play Test cricket at their second-tier grounds often.

"It doesn't happen every summer where we get to play a game in Potchefstroom where there isn't a big crowd," he said. "Us as players, we know we still have to have a job. We have to go out and play for five days. I don't think you should tinker with the duration of the match depending on who you are playing against. That's when you start disrespecting the game a little bit and ultimately not favouring the format. You can ask me this as many times as you want. I am a five-day specialist and that's the way it should stay."

The strong views aired by two of South Africa's senior-most players were not heard in the CSA boardroom. Moroe "only found out today" about the players' concerns through SACA at a CSA meeting. As far as Moroe understands, they have agreed to play the Zimbabwe match, as long as the match has Test status. "If ICC sanctions it, players will play," he said.

To that end, du Plessis' expressed an "understanding and appreciation" for the broader thinking behind four-day Tests, even though he expects they will present less of a challenge. "It's difficult because as cricketers we are used to it for now and its something difficult to change. If it happens, we will move on and accept the change," he said. "If four-day Test cricket comes around, you will have creative captaincy, more aggressive game plans, sporting declarations, but I think with the way Test cricket is at the moment it's about how long you can go, how long can your skill sets last. That's the challenge with Test cricket."

Further evidence supporting that theory also came on Monday in Abu Dhabi, where a thrilling final day between Pakistan and Sri Lanka brought an otherwise dreary affair to life. Matches in the UAE are prime cases for five-day Tests. Since 2010, when Pakistan began playing regularly there, 75% of matches have gone to the fifth day. Globally, in the same period, 58% of Tests, have gone to the fifth day but South Africa (43.3%) and India (47.1%) are two countries where less than half of Tests have needed five days.

Perhaps, that's why South Africa can position itself as the obvious choice for the first four-day match, even though the global player body FICA "do not have an official position" on the concept yet, according to Irish, who is also the FICA head. "We don't think there's enough work being done into it. In the survey, the majority of players were not in favour. That's an issue over the concept. It's about looking at the advantages and disadvantages," he said.

Still, it is widely expected the ICC will back the CSA's plan, but if it does not, Moroe has already begun working on a contingency plan. CSA's General Manager Corrie van Zyl and Commercial Manager Clive Eksteen have been tasked with deciding how CSA will approach matters if they draw a blank in Auckland, given that CSA have promised to provide some content over the Boxing Day period. "Our broadcasters need content. We need players to play cricket," Moroe said.

Ironically, South Africa will do that more than ever this summer. They have just begun their busiest home season yet with tours from Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, India and Australia visiting and the inaugural edition of the T20 Global League in a summer that will last seven months. Player fatigue has already come under the spotlight with four premier fast bowlers, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Chris Morris and Morne Morkel all injured. As new inventions crop up, perhaps player power also will.