How to attract the crowds back to five-day game

If the longer form of the sport is to thrive, it may need a shake-up. Stephen Brenkley has a plan...
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The Independent Online

The comments might have been ill-timed but they were disturbingly pertinent. When Chris Gayle, the captain of the West Indies, said this week that he would not be sad if Test cricket died, his words coincided with the start of a match attended by only 4,000 people on its first day.

Not many more will be at Chester-le-Street for the second Test between England and West Indies on the second, third and fourth days, and there will certainly be fewer if it goes into day five. It was all too possible to believe that Test cricket might indeed be in its death throes since England is one of the last places where Test cricket has stayed vibrant. The International Cricket Council is already on the case with several ideas, including floodlights and better over rates. But it seems to be dragging its heels in actually instigating action. Here we examine what might be done – and quickly.

1. Avoid familiarity

Do not stage games between the same two teams in such rapid succession. England played the West Indies in a home series two years ago, again last winter and now again at home. Familiarity can breed contempt which is why the Ashes, held once every four years in both England and Australia, remains special.

2. Kick out the weaklings

The game has been diminished by chronically weak teams like Zimbabwe (thankfully now no longer a Test nation) and Bangladesh. Test cricket should continue to seek new teams and horizons but they must be ready to compete because in modern professional sport there is no place for the outclassed.

3. Wheel out the marketing men

It needs more accomplished marketing everywhere – newspaper and television coverage alone cannot do it – and to remind people that Test cricket is a great game which has become a better game in the past 20 years. But players have to be aware of their responsibilities with regard to over rates which have become ridiculously slow for no reason.

4. Slash the price of tickets

Ticket prices everywhere, not least in England, need to be reassessed. While £65 for seven hours entertainment might not seem excessive, the cost of a top-priced ticket at the Riverside was plainly a deterrent. Around the world crowds are perilously thin already, but this match, allied to the timing of Gayle's comments, ought to have been a wake-up call of seismic proportions for the England and Wales Cricket Board.

5. Small can be beautiful

There is nothing wrong with playing games at smaller venues – it worked in New Zealand a year ago when England played at Hamilton and Napier. Perhaps England could play, say Bangladesh, at Taunton or Chelmsford.

6. Five is the magic number

Urgently re-examine the policy of seven Test matches in an English summer. This summer, for instance, five in a marquee Ashes series would have been sufficient. The same might be true of South Africa and India. Rarity value makes it special. In 2009, there is simply too much international cricket.

7. Make the playing field level

Ensure pitches have something to offer both batsmen and bowlers and are not the same the world over. England's recent series in the West Indies had its moments on the fifth day occasionally but there was too much mind-numbingly tedious play beforehand when the bat dominated.

8. Four is also the magic number

Investigate the idea of four-day Test matches. The majority of games in the past 20 years have involved a win or a loss and tend to finish in four 90-over days. This should not preclude the thrilling draw but most draws are draws from a long way out.

9. Lose play on May days

Never on any account play Test matches in early May in poor old and cold County Durham, which is probably how the trouble and Chris Gayle's disaffection began.