Saving cricket by shortening it

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Making one day games shorter and cutting the length of test match — two ideas Tim Badrick thinks could help save the longer versions of the game of cricket from extinction.

Even though Ricky Ponting's and Michael Clarke's return to form in the Australian cricket team inspired the whole team to impose a crushing defeat on the touring Indian side in the summer Test series, it is becoming very obvious that the game of cricket needs some fine tuning if it is going to remain a viable commercial proposition in opposition to many other spectator sports which are prospering while attendances at cricket matches continue to dwindle.

The success of the Australian cricket team and its lopsided domination of a hapless Indian team indirectly and ironically is bad news for spectator interest. No matter how biased most sport fans are, most of them still want a contest and not a predictable walk in the park victory for the team they support. Complete domination of one team over another in any team sport like cricket is always going to breed apathy and disinterest to some degree. I am sure most cricket lovers in Australia follow each and every game that an Australian team is involved in, be it a test match, a 50 over one day international match or a 20/20 fixture, but if the opposition keeps getting walloped by the Aussies then chances are more people than normal will lose the motivation to pay the admission fee to go and see a cricket match at the ground itself.

I think one aspect of cricket which needs to be changed is the duration of test matches and standard one day internationals. In Australia, one dayers should be made 40 overs a side instead of 50, it would help to speed the games up and lessen the chance of them becoming boring and formulaic —  which they have increasingly become year by year ever since World Series cricket exploded onto the scene in the 1970s. I think the city based in place of state based concept in the 20/20 format, with teams like Brisbane and Hobart replacing ones bearing the state name, is one of the more forward thinking and sensible initiatives that the Australian Cricket Board has devised in many a year. Obviously, it has made the sub-international level of cricket a lot more commercially viable in comparison to the Sheffield Shield competition.

The one aspect of the Sheffield Shield which I think has to be applied to international test cricket is that test matches in every country should be reduced from five days to four days duration. The manner in which test cricket is played nowadays, with all the limited over versions being played around them, quite simply means that 5 days for a test match is way too long, the Australian cricket team proved how unnecessary 5 days is for a test match by wrapping two of the recent test matches up long before the 5th day was up. Life is much different than it was a century or more ago when cricket was still a young sport in a pre-modern society, most sport fans want a result sooner rather than later, that's just the way life is now; people in general haven't got the patience they did generations ago.

It's time for the Australian Cricket Board, Cricket Australia, and even cricket identities like the Channel 9 commentators, to put a case before the International Cricket Council to have test matches played over four days instead of five. It makes sense. The old argument that 4 days doesn't give a team a chance of winning rarely applies anymore, and it will probably end up saving the game of test cricket from extinction alongside the shorter versions of the game, which quite simply are a lot more exciting to watch as a spectator.

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