Back to the future: telly's vision of eight-ball-over Tests

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The Independent Online

"It was a long, hot day in July on the fourth and final day of the Test, and a substitute fielder ran on to allow the opening bowler a rest after his long spell of eight-ball overs. The sub took up his position as one of the minimum two close catchers. It was the annual play-off between the top two countries in the first tier of the Test Match Championship.

"The paceman had already been shown a yellow card by the umpires for his slow over- rates, which the official had explained lucidly to the television audience via his microphone from the uniform, drop-in pitch. If this continued the umpire would also have to announce how many runs would be added to the batting team's score as a penalty."

This is an outline of the way Test cricket may, or may not, be played in the future. It was delivered in deadpan, provocative style to delegates at the International Cricket Council's annual forum last week. The messenger was Andrew Wildblood, senior international vice-president for IMG/TWI.

Since TWI (Trans World International) are the television production arm of IMG (International Management Group), responsible for the screening of thousands of hours of international cricket throughout the world, the delegates hung on his every word. What telly says may have to go, on the grounds that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

Should anybody accuse Wildblood of using his position as a rights arranger to change the game, he was adamant: "I would say that I am a traditionalist, but I am also anxious for the future of the Test match game, because of a meeting I had with a senior broadcaster in India."

The senior broadcaster said, alarmingly, that he was not interested in Test cricket on the box, only one-dayers. Considering the revered status of cricket in India the concerns are understandable (though clearly he must have been watching Indian soaps instead of Test matches lately). If Tests do not play on the television - in too many places almost their sole raison d'être - they will not play anywhere.

If Wildblood's ideas seemed at first glance as far-fetched as they were wide-ranging, it was spotted that when a show of hands was asked for on the introduction of the eight-ball over the chief executive of the ICC, Malcolm Speed, raised his in favour.

Speed is beginning to reveal hitherto hidden insurrectionary depths beneath that rigid lawyer's countenance: in his speech to the forum he floated the idea of a third umpire on the field. Wildblood went much further. The provocateur gave the illustration of the Mini car to support his contention that "good products respond to change to maintain consumer relevance while retaining core values". The Mini, still small and compact, has evolved in design over its 43 years.

Test cricket has been around for somewhat longer, in which time, it could be reckoned, its main changes have been the extension of matches from three days to five and the growing influence on its texture of one-day cricket.

Wildblood said that eight- ball overs (which used to be bowled in Australia) would reduce the number of breaks in the game while increasing the number of balls bowled in the day. (Under his scheme, 75 eight-ball overs would replace 90 six ball overs.)

He surprisingly advocated only the sparing use of technology to help umpires make decisions; authority should be restored to umpires on short-pitched bowling (because the game needs pacemen and spectators love them). Cricket might also benefit from a return to white clothing in all forms of the game.

"Does coloured clothing do more harm to the Test game than the one-day game?" he asked. It was when Wildblood ventured into one-day territory that he started expanding his strokeplay. He suggested 10-ball overs, two formats, of only 30 overs a side and 15 overs a side, and the outcome of rain-reduced matches to be decided on the aggregate of boundaries.

The ICC, meanwhile, have decided not to extend technology, to pursue the market for cricket in the USA, and were bullish about the prospects of paying up to $50m compensation to the Global Cricket Corporation, the rights-holders to ICC tournaments, for contractual breaches in the recent World Cup. The ICC are determined to be progressive. But, as for Wildblood's ideas, they may have to wait until 2084.