Testing times for longer game

The complete wash-out of the first day's play in the second Test here, the first such occurrence in this city since 1951, has prompted questions over the wisdom of staging Test cricket at the margins of the season, when inclement weather is more likely to affect play.

The complete wash-out of the first day's play in the second Test here, the first such occurrence in this city since 1951, has prompted questions over the wisdom of staging Test cricket at the margins of the season, when inclement weather is more likely to affect play. Unless the answer lies with roofed stadiums and floodlights, as Australia have in Melbourne, itineraries already at bursting point will see more Test matches staged when rain rather than play will decide the outcome.

The culprit for this log-jam is the increase of one-day internationals. Since the Test series before Christmas, England have played 10 50-over matches, five in India and five here: tournaments that have taken 48 days to complete. In the past they would have taken half as long.

In just about every country bar England and Australia, one-day cricket holds sway over Test matches. Presumably that is why the New Zealand Board scheduled them before the rugby season – the equivalent of the Premiership here. Last time England toured five years ago, the equivalent Test match was played six weeks earlier on 6 February with the limited-overs matches tagged on at the end.

It is not likely to improve globally. Cricket is spreading its gospel, and the International Cricket Council is ploughing increasing amounts of television revenue into developing the game in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark and Canada in the hope that it will catch on beyond its expat foothold.

Like those countries who have achieved recent one-day and Test status, such as Kenya and Bangladesh, they will want to play the bigger teams sooner or later, and one-day cricket will be their preferred format. Such a trend will further squeeze Test matches, which, already being played back to back, will be shoe-horned into increasingly smaller windows between one-day tournaments.

The outcome could be catastrophic. With almost no time for bowlers to get over niggles or batsmen to iron out a flaw, playing standards will drop. If that happens, crowds will show even less interest than they do now; in Christchurch last week the public were not very keen at all.

One way to ease the pressure all round would be to have two divisions in both forms of the game. It probably will not be popular, as it was not among the counties a few years ago, but it may be the only way to ensure Test cricket has the time and place in the fixture list to do itself justice. If not, it will end up a relic sooner than people think.

On form, both England and New Zealand would be in the premier division though none of this was apparent on the opening day. Neither captain looked particularly perturbed about events, reasoning that, with the pace at which Test cricket is played these days, four days is plenty of time for a result.

However, the mopping-up operation after yesterday's storms meant no play was possible before lunch today, either.

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