David Morgan, the ICC president, has hinted that Test cricket may be reduced to four days to protect and enrich the game's oldest format in the face of lucrative Twenty20 leagues like the IPL. The suggestion is one of several radical changes mooted for the new Future Tours Programme, including a two-tier format and day-night Tests to attract more crowds.
"Another thought that many people have, that we are examining is whether Test match cricket can be played over four days rather than five," Morgan told the India Today magazine. "I would be very surprised if within a year you haven't seen some significant changes in Test match cricket."
James Sutherland, the chief executive of Cricket Australia, confirmed that four-day Tests had been raised in strategy discussions during recent ICC meetings in London. Sutherland said the concept was not a "developed thought", but indicated the willingness of cricket's leaders to modernise the game.
"That was just one of a number of initiatives and innovations that were raised in strategy discussion," Sutherland told Cricinfo. "I have heard Mark Taylor talk about four-day Tests as a concept in the past, but I'm not sure if it is something that will be taken on."
Morgan felt it wouldn't be too difficult for players to make a mental shift from five days to four. He added that Test cricket needed many more adjustments, and that special cricket balls would have to be made to facilitate night Tests in white clothing.
"We need better over-rates, better pitches that give a good balance between bat and ball and we need to consider day-night Test cricket," Morgan said. "There is great support for it, the issue is the colour of the ball and the quality of the ball. It would be a pity if Test match cricket - day-night - had to be played with a white ball and therefore coloured clothing.
"We are looking very closely at ball manufacturing design that replicates a red ball, maybe an orange ball, a ball that could still allow us to play in white clothing and still at night."
The two-tier structure was recently put forth by Dave Richardson, the ICC general manager for cricket, to divide the stronger and weaker teams and make the format more competitive. Sutherland has leant his tentative backing to the concept, although is cogniscent of the impact it could have on smaller Test nations.
"Test cricket is the ultimate test of skill, fitness and mental strength, and contests between stronger and weaker teams often lack the competitive aspect of other forms of the game," Sutherland said. "For sport to be entertaining and something that engages with the public, there needs to be uncertainty in terms of the result. We have probably seen in recent years too many matches where that hasn't necessarily been the case.
"We see merit in the idea of similar strength teams being pitted against each other, but there is obviously a flipside to that. If India, for example, is placed in the top-tier, then nations in the second tier would be at a commercial disadvantage with their ability to host them. These are all factors that will be discussed, but the most important element from our point of view is that Test cricket retains quality content and context."
The ICC has also given the go ahead for the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) from October following trials in specific series over the last year. Umpires will have greater scope to decide on bad-light interruptions and the penalities for slow over-rates have also been increased.
With so much emphasis on Twenty20 and the enrichment of Test cricket, Morgan remained confident of the survival of the 50-over game in its current form, now with batting Powerplays and free-hits added to add greater intrigue. He also defended the presence of the Champions Trophy in an already crowded calendar, despite its unpopularity with many of the players.
The Champions Trophy, to be played in South Africa in September, will feature only the top eight teams and is a shorter tournament compared to previous editions.
"It will be played over a shorter period and we are certain it will rejuvenate the Champions Trophy brand," he said. "The brand needed polishing, rejuvenating, it needed remodeling and this event will be a very, very exciting and successful event I'm sure. It will be the event that will give fifty overs cricket its profile back, give it a boost without a doubt."