As the 10-month rugby season slips quietly towards its anticlimactic end - a Bledisloe dead rubber and a tour that skips England - it is worth considering the fluid state of the summer game.

We might not be ready for it until the mercury rises another few notches but cricket has not been short on news. A potential move to four-day tests has been the biggest attention stealer and while some of the angst is justified, a lot of it remains misplaced.

The biggest issue in test cricket is not the amount of time it takes, but the pace of play. Cricketers and the authorities who run the game have singularly failed to grasp just how infuriating conferences between captain and bowler are between every over and, worse, during an over.

Add to that the mid-pitch conferences between batsmen that often involve squad members ambling on to the field with electrolytes, fresh gloves and a copy of Turf Digest and you have a recipe for switching off.


Cricket is a more analytical game than it once was and it's a more dynamic game - the batting and fielding more so than bowling - but the amount of time wasted between bursts of action is inexcusable.

Modern over rates are the sport's biggest joke. Address this and four-day tests can work.

With the extra day of recovery a four-day test would afford there should be no reason why you couldn't complete 100 overs per day - 400 overs is just 50 overs shy of what you'd play in a five-day test.

Weather interruptions would have a greater effect on the outcome but really, if you make a commitment to playing shorter but faster, there are few logical arguments against at least giving the four-day concept a try.

Arguments around the "sanctity" of test cricket don't wash. Test cricket has been tinkered with since the days of WG Grace's beard.

They have been played over three days, over four days, five days, six days and, on one infamous occasion, nine days, though that match between England and South Africa in Durban in 1939 ended in a draw as England had to catch a boat home.

Pitches used to remain uncovered, even during downpours.

Overs have contained as few as four balls and as many as eight. The time before the fielding side gets a new ball has changed.

The lbw laws have changed. Fielding restrictions have been added. Short-pitched bowling restrictions have been added. Television umpiring has been added, a pink ball has been added et cetera. Tests have been a giant experiment; it is part of the fabric of the sport.

Whatever way you slice it up, tests are increasingly unpopular with broadcasters and from that follows the sport's administrators (as we can see with the allocation of a measly four tests this summer, one of them a pink-ball lottery).

If part of the solution is reducing the time it takes to play them, we'd be mad not to try it.


Incidentally, the one country where four-day tests might struggle is New Zealand. This is not so much because of the ever-present threat of wet stuff from above, but due to the green stuff below. As it is, New Zealand pitches are front-loaded with moisture to compensate for the lack of deterioration, taking a day away would only exacerbate that situation.

Some 60 per cent of tests played in New Zealand since the turn of the century have been either drawn or decided on the fifth day so you have to figure that, without the aid of radical declarations, the loss of 50 overs and possibly more will only increase the amount of stalemates.


Can't blame Warren Gatland for hating the Lions tour. By the time the third test had rolled around I'd started hating it too, and I wasn't the one having every burp, fart and utterance second-guessed and micro-analysed.

At times the tour seemed no more than a Punch and Judy act, with Steve Hansen and Gatland being egged on to swing verbal maces at each other.

"All the pressure is on the [Lions] head coach. I don't feel there is anything near the same pressure on players as there is on coaches," Gatland said in a widely reported interview.

As for Sean O'Brien's claim that his team should have won the series 3-0, Gatland shouldn't get too wound up about that: it was no more than the final stupid statement of a tour pockmarked by them.


Some correspondence (edited for clarity)...

I enjoyed this article and I agree with virtually all of your points with just a little comment on number 14.

One of our most respected and outstanding All Blacks, Michael Jones, is a man of strong Christian faith, which he held firm to, ahead of his rugby career.

I have never heard anyone pass a comment that his beliefs were and are "bunkum , easily disabused" as per the Israel Folau example of Christian beliefs in your article.

The influence of the Christian Church is indeed less of an influence in society at the moment , as you say, but it remains, and the Bible is still an outstanding Book for guidance on how to live a good, loving and meaningful life.

Kind regards, Allen Dixon.

I take your point Allen, but we might be coming at this issue at cross purposes. I was not being dismissive of Folau's Christianity (though on a re-read, I can see how that could be taken that way), just his invocation of religion to bolster an argument against marriage equality.

So to make it clearer than I did last time, I have nothing against Christians as long as they don't use that good Book as a tool of discrimination.


Fans of British football will love this podcast. I have only a passing interest, but the quality of the talent on Quickly Kevin kept me hooked, even if they're not the most polished of productions.

The multi-talented Scotty Stevenson on the junction of family, loss and, um, the Cambridge Blues.

Yeah, nice work John Branch.