Stokes makes case for Test cricket as debate rages over five-day format

LONDON (AFP) – Ben Stokes made an emphatic case for the unique drama of five-day Test cricket this week – inspiring England to a series-levelling win against South Africa in the final overs of a dramatic contest.

His match-winning performance in Cape Town on Tuesday came at a time of intensifying debate over the future of the longest form of the game, which has been played since 1877.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) will in the coming months discuss reducing Tests to four days as part of structuring the global calendar beyond 2023.

For a sport so closely linked with tradition, cricket has shown a remarkable ability to innovate in recent decades, introducing multiple forms of limited-overs cricket that have taken firm root.

But the latest proposal, part of an effort to tackle the crowded international cricket calendar and save on costs, has divided players, many of whom consider Test cricket the gold standard.

The ICC allowed four-day Tests in 2017 and they have been tried in one-off games between South Africa and Zimbabwe and England against Ireland.

But they are not allowed in the Test world championship, which is currently led by Virat Kohli’s India.

The Cricinfo website said mandatory four-day Tests rather than five-day matches during the current cycle from 2015 to 2023 would have freed up a total of 335 days of scheduled cricket over the period.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has offered “cautious” backing to the suggested new model and Australia and New Zealand said four-day Tests deserved serious consideration.

But a succession of top cricketers have spoken out against the idea and the global players’ representative body has warned of “significant player resistance”, though others such as Shane Warne have voiced support for a change.

England all-rounder Stokes claimed the last three South Africa wickets at Newlands to earn a 189-run victory for England, who levelled the four-match series at 1-1 on Tuesday.

England’s Ben Stokes (R) celebrates with teammate Joe Root. PHOTO: AFP