Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo
Anil Kumble, one of the most prominent and influential voices in world cricket, is "very clear" that a Test match has to be five days long and he does not endorse the proposal to make four-day Test cricket mandatory.
Kumble, who is the chairman of the ICC's Cricket Committee, has also countered the view expressed by many, including the ICC chairman Shashank Manohar, that Test cricket is dying. Test cricket, Kumble said, is very much alive, but he feels the viewing habits of the fans have changed, with many following it through the television and digital mediums.
Although the ICC Board itself is split on the subject, some of the key Full Member boards want the ICC to consider making four-day Test cricket mandatory from the 2023 cycle of the World Test Championships. Trimming that one day, these administrators believe, would free up space in the cricket calendar, which has been stretched to the limits.
The player fraternity, however, is split with most favouring five-day Tests. That includes India captain Virat Kohli, who said he is "not a fan of" four-day Test cricket, and former England captain Andrew Strauss. The latter, who also sits on the ICC Cricket Committee, said it should either be "an easy sell or we shouldn't be doing it."
Kumble is in the same group as Kohli and Strauss when it comes to four-day Tests. "The sense of what I think about it is the players have given that. I mean, they don't want a four-day Test," Kumble said during The Hindu's annual thought conclave, The Huddle, which was held in Bengaluru on February 23.
"Five-day Test is what it is. And a Test it is because it is five days. If it was four days, it wouldn't be a Test. I am very clear on that."
Kumble's views carry significance considering he chairs one of the most important committees in the ICC, one which recommends all things cricket, with the recommendations then ratified by the ICC Board.
Although ESPNcricinfo understands the four-day Test is not likely to feature formally on the agenda for the March round of ICC meetings in Dubai, administrators would be keen to have a discussion at some point going into the annual conference in July, scheduled in Cape Town.
According to Kumble, the ICC Cricket Committee had an initial discussion on four-day Tests two years ago but it had never thought about making it mandatory for all countries. Kumble said he was open to four-day Tests being played in bilateral tournaments against smaller countries like Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe, but nothing beyond that.
"It was discussed a couple of years ago, but I don't think there's any progress made on taking a decision of a mandatory four-day Test. I don't think it has ever been done. There was an experiment done with South Africa and Zimbabwe, where they played a four-day Test match. England played Ireland. I mean when you play Afghanistan, Ireland, Zimbabwe, maybe the boards have the wherewithal to go ahead and play a four-day Test.
But the [ICC Cricket] Committee and even within the ICC, I don't think there's any, at least in the immediate, thinking of having a four-day Test competition, which is mandatory. I don't think there's anything of that (nature), but I am really glad that the players believe that it is a five-day competition that they want."
Test cricket is "still healthy"
According to Kumble, one challenge for Test cricket was the quality of the contests, which have not always been competitive. Kumble agreed this was something the players needed to ensure to keep the fans' interest alive. "One thing that all of us as fans would want is better competition in a Test match. You want more teams to compete harder against each other. Not just last for five days, but the ability of a spinner coming in…and the match-up between a batsman playing a spinner on a fourth-day pitch, on a fifth-day pitch is something you want to see, the battle between that."
One major reason Kumble remained positive that Test cricket was safe was the balance between bat and ball was nearly equal, unlike in the past where batsmen dominated contests on most occasions. "If you see in the last 18 months or two years, results in Test cricket have been phenomenal. The runs per wicket has come down drastically from what it used to be, which means there is better balance between bat and ball. So in that sense Test cricket is certainly giving you the right feelers, of saying, yes, it is still healthy."
Kumble also disagreed that empty grounds across the world during a Test series, outside of marquee contests like the Ashes, were a clear indicator that the long-format cricket was dead due to lack of interest. Even as Kumble was speaking at the event, Kohli's India were fighting to survive in the first Test against New Zealand in Wellington.
Kumble inquired about the score and got several responses with some of those in the audience checking the scores via digital media. The responses proved his point that the fans were following the game differently, compared to when he was growing up when watching Test cricket at the venue was a habit.
"It is just that you want more people to come and watch Test cricket from the stadium. That isn't happening. But people who're sitting in this room are following what is happening in New Zealand - either through phones or messages coming through notifications. When people talk about Test cricket is dying, I don't think so. I think everybody who is sitting in this room probably [will] know the score.
"So, if we're following Test cricket why are we talking about it dying. Yes, people going to stadiums, spending five days, watching Test cricket - that may have come down. That experience needs to get better."
Kumble said getting fans to the stadium was the big challenge and administrators would have to work hard to market Test cricket. Kumble provided from his stint as president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA), when he and other administrators worked to attract crowds to M Chinnawamy Stadium in Bengaluru during a Test.
"To draw people into the stadium is a challenge. Even when we were (KSCA) administrators, when India played New Zealand in Bangalore, we threw open half the stadium to students. We brought them from their schools, we organised buses, we gave them meals during the entire day and there were 12,000 people watching Test-match cricket. That's really good."
Kumble encouraged parents to take their children to the ground, saying it was the best place to watch the sport and for some, could also prove to be the starting point of a dream. "We all got inspired of becoming a cricketer, wanting to pursue this as a career because we went to a stadium, watched Ranji Trophy - Karnataka, Tamil Nadu. It was a packed house at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
"I still remember, I had to push and nudge through where cops were asking us to stop and show our tickets. And I was only eight or ten at that time and then my cousin said 'He's a ten-year old, let him in' and we watched the match between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu at the Chinnaswamy Stadium and the stadium was packed for a Ranji Trophy game. So there is still interest, it is just a matter of harnessing that interest and making [it] accessible to people who want to come in, and that's something we need to look at."