Four-day Tests backed to enrich financial wellbeing of counties

Mark Arthur.
Mark Arthur.
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YORKSHIRE chief executive Mark Arthur is backing calls for four-day Tests.

The England and Wales Cricket Board are leading the push for Tests to be reduced from their traditional five days, believing it is the best way to inject life into the game’s oldest format in the T20 era.

General view of play between England and West Indies during day five of the the second Investec Test match at Headingley, Leeds.

General view of play between England and West Indies during day five of the the second Investec Test match at Headingley, Leeds.

The governing body will throw their weight behind the scheme at the next board meeting of the International Cricket Council, which will discuss the ongoing restructuring of the sport.

Five-day Tests have been a feature of the English summer for 70 years, and there are many who feel that they should be retained.

Equally, there are many like Arthur who favour change, with four-day Tests potentially coming in as soon as 2020.

“I am very much in favour of four-day Test matches, but extending the hours of play,” said Arthur.

“So rather than the traditional hours of 11am-6pm, it would be 10.30am-6.30pm, but play could go on until 7pm with the use of floodlights.

“There would be an extra 15 overs a day, so 105 instead of the current 90.

“In real terms, you’d only actually be losing one session from a traditional five-day match.”

Figures show that only 58 per cent of Tests have gone into a fifth day since the start of the millennium. That figure was as high as 68 per cent in the 1990s and 77 per cent in the 1980s.

But with scoring rates having risen with the increase of one-day cricket, the actual number of overs per Test is 332 now compared with 331 in the 1980s.

None of these factors take into account the weather, of course, but it is a rarity now in England for Tests to go into a fifth day, with this year’s Headingley Test against West Indies the exception.

Although a cricketing traditionalist, and a great advocate of Test cricket, Arthur is also wearing his administrator’s hat.

He points out that clubs often lose money on day five, when there can be precious little play or else the prospect of a nailed-on draw.

A move to four-day Tests would allow ECB to guarantee Thursday starts for each match, which is the preferred option for Yorkshire and their county brethren as it allows them to maximise corporate income.

Next year, with England and India shoehorning a five-Test series into seven weeks, Trent Bridge will host a Test that starts on a Saturday, potentially impacting on corporate sales.

“By having four-day Test matches, it means that back-to-back Test matches are possible, all starting on a Thursday,” said Arthur. “Thursday and Friday are good corporate days, and Saturday and Sunday are very good for drawing in crowds.

“Everyone knows that they would get value for money because there would be an extra 15 overs a day, and therefore you could confidently sell tickets in advance for those four days.

“It would also help with the fixture schedule, which, as we know, is not ideal.

“I will always look at this situation from the point of view of hosting an event, and I will always want that event to be as successful on and off the field as it can possibly be.

“This year was an exception for us when the Headingley Test went into a fifth day, and, because of the state of the game, and because of the creativeness of the pricing structure, we were able to negate our traditional fifth-day losses.

“The set-up of each day of a Test match is between £30,000-£35,000, so if you’ve got no income coming in on the fifth day, then the loss from Headingley’s perspective is within that region.

“It’s only when you’ve got, as we had this year at Headingley, three possible results that people come along, and we ended up getting the result that nobody was really expecting (a West Indies win).”

Arthur said it is a fallacy that chief executives want Tests to last the full five days.

“I find it quite humorous when the media glibly say of a flat, boring wicket, ‘Oh, it must be a chief exec’s wicket because he wants it to go five days’,” said Arthur.

“That’s an absolute nonsense.

“A chief exec will always want a great contest to finish inside the last hour of the fourth day because then you’re going to maximise your financial return.

“If, for example, there’s just an hour’s play on day five, you can’t really charge anything for people to come in.

“If you think there’s going to be two hours’ play, you might decide to charge a fiver and kids for free or something, so that would negate some of the £30,000-£35,000 loss.

“But a lot of people won’t come along for a couple of hours’ play, or if they know it’s going to be a draw, and all the set-up costs of stewarding, cleaning, etc, have to be paid for.”