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Four play won’t satisfy

At the SCG, Australia celebrated yet another Test victory over New Zealand inside four days.

At the SCG, Australia celebrated yet another Test victory over New Zealand inside four days.Credit:Getty Images

That is why it is pointless to argue that Test cricket should be reduced to four days because most matches finish inside four anyway. Some finish in four days not despite being scheduled for five, but because of it.

In this year’s Boxing Day Test, again the Kiwis were left to bat pretty much for two days to save the match. Without a Greatbatch among them (with apologies to Tom Blundell), they were defeated before they began and were out in one. But if they had only to bat out one day, it might have been different.

In all the game’s skills, a cricketer can fudge it for a day, sometimes four, but will be found out over five, and just sometimes find hidden reserves and win everlasting fame for it. If Greatbatch had batted all of the fourth day to save that Perth match, it would have been an exceptional innings, but not unprecedented. To bat through fourth and fifth days made it truly epic and to this day memorable.

You didn’t have to watch every ball to appreciate what it took. You couldn’t: he batted through the nightly news twice in one innings. Vastness became its own spectacle, like the pyramids and the Grand Canyon. No one recommends¬†downsizing them.

Quality in sport is never a function only of quantity. It would be sad if it was. This is where the four-day argument falls down.

In the four-day schema, there would be more overs per day, 100 perhaps. Pardon? It’s all Test cricketers can do now to bowl 90. It’s not that they are all indolent sloths, it’s how the game has evolved. Even the umpires, who are charged to enforce the over rate, contrive to thwart it. Have you seen how Marais Erasmus moves when it’s two minutes to the end of a session? The heavy roller sometimes overtakes him.

Quality in sport is never a function only of quantity. It would be sad if it was. This is where the four-day argument falls down. Test cricket could compress 100 overs into a day, but 15 would be junk, delivered to balance the day’s books. It would be to approximate five days, and so in a mindless rush we would be back to where we began.

But it’s even more fundamental. Cricket, like most sports, preaches attack, but has its default in defence. Before you seek to win, first you make sure not to lose. Test cricket, as perhaps the only game to admit an outcome other than win, loss or draw, institutionalises this. It’s what makes victory so deeply satisfying.

A four-day game might vary the dynamics around declarations and the follow-on, for instance. It might add a sheen of urgency. But for the hopelessly outplayed team, it would also create a new refuge. It is one thing to bat for two sessions to save a match, another all together to survive for five. Item 1: New Zealand in Sydney on Monday.

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