ECB moots four-day Tests, 40-over World Cup

Test cricket could be reduced to four days, and the next World Cup curtailed to just 40 overs a side if wide-ranging discussions between the chairmen of the English counties and the ECB become firm proposals, and are ultimately adopted by the ICC

George Dobell
George Dobell
Test cricket could be reduced to four days, and the next World Cup curtailed to 40 overs a side, if wide-ranging discussions between the chairmen of the English counties and the ECB become firm proposals, and are ultimately adopted by the ICC.
Any reduction in five-day cricket would mean the abandonment of a tradition that has been at the heart of the international game for more than 30 years. Tests have routinely been played over five days since 1979, an exception being when India met West Indies over six days in Kanpur. You have to go as far back as 1973 to find a Test scheduled for only four days: New Zealand v Pakistan in Auckland.
The ideas are included in a discussion document - Strategy Conversation Summary - seen by ESPNcricinfo which details radical suggestions for change in the domestic and international game. They form part of a wide-ranging review into the future of English cricket, both domestically and internationally, in which no tenet of the game is immune from potential change.
These suggestions remain only that, and are as yet restricted only to England. Any such change, if proposed, would have to undergo a long and painful discussion process within the ICC if they were to be adopted. But the very fact that such radical questions are being posed perhaps indicates the potential changes that could take place within the international game.
Another eye-catching aim - and one being driven forward most strongly - includes England establishing the English Premier League, a streamlined T20 competition involving eight or 10 teams, as "a dominant T20 tournament."
The implication - although it is not stated directly - is that England's international schedule could be trimmed to allow England players to take part in the EPL which would be seen as a serious rival - or addition - to the IPL and the fast-growing Big Bash League in Australia. There are also widespread changes suggested for the structure of domestic cricket in England and Wales.
But it is the sections on Test and ODI cricket that will provoke the most worldwide interest, as county chairmen debate options ahead of an ECB strategy document due to be published in October. News that a 50-over World Cup is being openly questioned in England might be seen as untimely, taking place as it does while the current tournament is being held over 50 overs in Australia and New Zealand.
While the next World Cup is to be staged in England in 2019, there is no way that the ECB - soon to be rebranded Cricket England and Wales as the ECB brand is seen as toxic - could unilaterally decide a change in its format.
Equally, they do not have the power to change the length of Test matches, although if England, seen as the great defender of the primacy of Test cricket, is questioning the five-day format, then others may soon follow.
Intriguingly, the document includes a section suggesting the new president of the ECB - the former chairman, Giles Clarke - can use his influence at the ICC to bring change. Clarke remains the ECB's representative at the ICC and is believed to retain ambitions of one day chairing the organisation. India, England and Australia also now have widespread powers to run the international game much as they see fit.
"Influence ICC - ECB President changing the World Cup format to a 40-over competition," the document proposes.
A change in the length of ODIs has been mooted previously. Ahead of the 2011 World Cup, the idea seemed to be growing in popularity, only for the success of that tournament to breathe new life into the 50-over format.
It would appear the motivation for the suggested changes comes to a large extent from the desire of the new power brokers at the ECB - the chairman Colin Graves and chief exective Tom Harrison - to bring new relevance to their domestic professional set-up, which at 18 counties is the most ambitious in the world.
Four-day Tests - reduced from seven per summer to as few as five - would help create space in the schedule for a major T20 tournament. And a World Cup over 40 overs would allow the counties to revert to 40 overs a side while not deviating from the formats played at international level, a format they believe is more commercially attractive.
While some will view the discussion document - and at the moment that is all it is - as admirably bold and radical, others are sure to view the county chairmen and their discussions on the international game as naive, and question whether the ECB, in discussing them in this manner, have exceeded their authority.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo