Another brutal one-sided affair has once again prompted urges for a radical shake-up to Test cricket, after South Africa went down again in a lacklustre Boxing Day performance.
Another dire performance from a touring side Down Under has reignited the debate over the future of the game and how to keep viewership rates alive into the next decade.
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After losing the first Test in under two days and collapsing short of Australia’s first innings total at the MCG, South Africa’s unfortunate capitulation this summer has reignited a hot topic among cricket’s leading voices.
FOX cricket commentator Mark Howard asked Kerry O‘Keeffe if there was something he’d suggest to give Test cricket a kick up the backside.
O’Keeffe floated the idea of a four-day Test with 100 overs per innings, effectively turning red ball cricket into another iteration of limited overs.
“I‘d make them four day matches — I’d take a day off,” he said. “I’d dispense with the lunch break and I’d ask umpires and captains to hurry the game along.
“I’d have a half-hour break in the middle of the day, save 30 minutes there. Why have a 40 minute lunch break and a 20 minute tea break? We could break that up. And I would almost restrict the first innings to 100 overs each.”
Apart from a largely successful shift towards day-night matches, Test cricket has remained the same for decades. It’s the world around it — T20 World Cups, franchise competitions, ODI series and the slowly emerging 100-ball game — that has continued to change at pace.
While traditionalists retch, the move could see new life injected into the 150-year-old game by encouraging batsmen to be more attacking, as opposed to what we have seen all summer with Australia slowly but surely knocking over top orders unsure of how to approach the conditions.
South Africa’s middle order offered little in the first two games — notching three scores under 200 and a 204 today at the MCG.
Temba Bavuma — despite only scoring one Test century from 54 matches — has been the most convincing of the top order but still could not punch through and pull the tourists to a competitive total in four innings.
Dean Elgar has also dipped with the bat after taking on the captaincy, with his average dropping to just 16 from his last 10 innings.
The embattled Proteas skipper put his side’s dire performance with the bat down to inexperience. With many of the players backing up from the recent T20 World Cup, one could see how the side was ill-prepared for long hours at the crease through a three-Test campaign.
Their batting order simply lacks the numbers to be threatening on Australian pitches — Elgar averages 37.89 in his career, Bavuma 34.31, and Rassie van der Dussen 30.16. Everyone else on tour averages in their 20s except Khaya Zondo, who averages 16.20 and Theunis de Bruyn at 19.50.
It is also worth noting that South African batsman Rilee Russouw — 36 Tests at 38.7 — is fronting up for the Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash this summer while the Proteas get thrashed in whites.
The West Indies suffered similar problems during their two-Test tour, with some of their arguably most talented players fetching overseas T20 contracts.
Nicholas Pooran, who has made a name as one of the most ferocious ball strikers in world cricket, has not played a single Test match and looks content remaining a gun for hire.
Across the pond, England appears to be embracing the new era under new coach Brendon McCullum, who has ushered in an approach that fans are calling “BazBall”.
In a recent innings against Pakistan, a largely inexperienced England lineup piled on 657 in just 101 overs. Four batsmen scored hundreds, with the standout being 23-year-old Harry Brook’s 153 off 116.
The aggressive approach led by skipper Ben Stokes has fans wondering whether Australia can keep up the pace in the upcoming Ashes on British soil.
There are already some who believe England’s approach would be better suited for a four-day, 100-over per innings game.
The numbers show Test cricket is fast becoming a quicker game despite critics’ complaints. Average run rates are higher than last century. 77 per cent of Test matches went into the fifth day throughout the 1980s. Since 2010, less than 60 per cent of matches have lasted until the final day.
However, the idea for a shift to four-day Test matches has been circulating for years, and cricket’s governing body is yet to make a call on shaking-up one of the world’s longest running sporting formats.
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