What if we re-designed Test cricket?

Let's take the game we know, and just start with a clean slate.

Cricket has evolved over 250 years. Most sports are lucky to have 100 years of history; ours is so old we don't know why it is called cricket.

And so that means many things about our game are anachronistic, even if many are great. For instance, making a five day sport was actually a pretty good idea from a ticket, TV and streaming perspective—targeted advertising over days, plenty of content. The white clothing became a defining image as well. Many of the random old laws were quite handy. The LBW came from a time in the late 1700s when we rolled the ball along the ground. Our game would be poorer without it.

The game has twisted and evolved through the players, and usually, the administrators have been behind. The MCC and their laws have often been way behind the game. It's evolved by playing it in the UK and then worldwide.

But many things have happened that you wouldn't do today. It took us over hundred years to put player's numbers on the back, even though most sports don't have fans 100 metres from the action.

I wanted to come at this from another angle because knowing what we do, if you had the chance of redesigning Test cricket, what kind of changes would you make. I threw out a tweet, and whoa, I got some responses.

There were a lot of people saying no changes, 'it's perfect'. This is nonsense, it will continually change like it always has. Even if you think cricket is perfect now, that won't stay the same as the sport continues to be played in new ways. And others were saying make it 20 overs or 100 balls. Yeah, we did that. But we have this other product worth money, so I tried to look at it from what would be different if we began with let's say, a Premier Test League.

So let's start with the toss. This one was certainly mentioned a lot, I didn't do the stats on it, but I'd suggest this was the most consistent reply. Many sports have coin tosses, but it makes little difference in many sports. We know that isn't the same in cricket.

Many people suggested allowing the travelling team to choose what they want to do instead of tossing a coin. That has been tried before and then given up, so I can only assume it didn't work. I would like to see the info on it to check for myself. However, Derek Willis tweeted in to mention his piece with Gaurav Sood on why teams should be made to auction for the toss.

"Our analysis of more than 40,000 professional matches suggests as much:  [the team that wins the toss wins the game 2.8 percentage points more often. And if that were not sobering enough, in day-night one-day matches, the advantage of winning the toss is a whopping 5.9%."

So many people mentioned it because we know that the toss isn't that fair. The question then becomes: would you start a sport knowing this? Almost definitely not. It's not as big a difference as many think, but it's there.

Here is a small but interesting one from Noah in the US, to allow the batting team to decline the extra delivery after a no ball. Again, we assume the batting team wants the extra delivery, but you do not if you're batting out the draw. If you're a number eleven facing Jasprit Bumrah, you don't. This is a fascinating one for me. I am now an optional extra delivery Stan.

Others suggested free hits for no balls. Free hits were probably one of the best inventions in cricket as they did two things, radically reduce the number of no balls and give us something fun in a random moment of a match. I don't know if we need free hits in Tests; I'd prefer the back foot no ball call, with an amendment to stop bowlers dragging.

Let's talk weather because this game gets some, and we can't play during it. It's not the only sport bothered by rain; baseball and tennis get it too. But there is no way you'd design a sport right now and allow it to be so heavily affected. The obvious answer is roofing on grounds. Like the Docklands in Melbourne, except better. You may not be able to have every ground have one, but one per country is probably possible.

But that still leaves games that won't be covered. And I saw at least one person suggest the Sri Lanka method of covering the entire ground. Which at least lessons the time we have to wait before coming back on. But that's an update more than a redesign.

But surely the perfect thing would be to play through light rain. We can't do that at the moment because it ruins the ball and can do the same to the pitch. But the only way to do that is to make the ball out of something that isn't leather. That's a problem because the degradation of the leather is part of the game. This is why even Jason Gillespie's suggestion of vegan balls isn't happening.


And we have already started looking at hybrid pitches as well. For Tests these are not ideal, but they will be regularly used in white ball games. This will actually help Test pitches, as part of the problem now is squares are overused. But perhaps there is a way to make a synthetic hybrid Test wicket. It might give us more control over the surfaces.

If you don't want to go all the way with synthetic wickets, what about Independent pitch curators? We already have it with umpires; I think the pitch plays an even bigger role.

(On umpires, it's also worth saying that we have independent umpires, but I'd prefer we had specialist third umpires who actually understand the technology. Imagine how much better they'd be if they did it every Test, not one in three. This is more of a bug fix.)

But to get back to the point, if you were designing cricket from scratch, you might not use a leather ball that goes out of shape, an outfield made of real turf that doesn't drain great or a pure grass wicket.

Any new version would want more cricket, and whether it is rain or light, we stop for many reasons that would make a new sport blush. We obviously have to stop for bad light when it gets unsafe, but I suppose that brings us back trying to ensure we don't go off. If you were designing this from the start, you wouldn't be using a red ball, because when it gets dark, even with the lights, it's tough to see. So that would mean an investment in a pink ball, or something else to make it better.

Talking of lost time, it's worth mentioning over rates. If nothing else you would want to develop a sport where at the end of every day, most people aren't moaning. The problems of over rates however, go well beyond bowlers being slow. It's about how the game is currently set up, batters and DRS play a big role now too. Again, starting from scratch would give a chance to revolutionise that.

This isn't just about bad light of course. Day-night matches would absolutely be part of your plan. Most Test cricket is played mid-week during the day, when the advertising rates are low and most people work or are at school. One of the obvious reasons why day-night Test cricket isn't a thing is because cricket started before electrification. Also, lighting a cricket ground was very tough, unlike a baseball diamond.

So there is no doubt that there should be more day-night matches, but we haven't entirely invested what we should into that. But if you were starting from scratch, this is what you'd do.

To play more day-night matches, you'd also have to ensure extra overs were bowled. 100 a day. That's tough when we don't currently get 90 into a day. I got a lot of people talking about fixing over rates. In truth a redesign would work best because the problem isn't lazy fielders or canny captains. It's the entire way the game is currently played.

And that's kind of the beginning. You would also look at doing more four day Tests, with even the possibility of most Tests being four days. A bit like day-night, this would allow you to play three Tests in three weeks, with matches being played from Thursday to Sunday. If you do these as day-night, that means you hit Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. And if you have a close match, then it finishes on Sunday evening.

And if you have day-night and four days, the next thing to add to that is a league. Many people talk about two or three divisions, or giving status to everyone. I think the best thing is probably a combination of both ideas. Everyone gets to play Test status, let's end the nonsensical private boys club of Test cricket.

If you want to play a Test, fine. But there are divisions. And you have to earn it. South Africa shouldn't stay at the pinnacle of the sport because a hundred years ago someone decided they were good enough to play Test cricket because old English fellas like to holiday there. The idea is to earn your place at the top. Not once, but all the time.

Of course, if you were really doing this from scratch, the better option might be to make Test cricket a franchise. We almost had it when Lalit Modi was involved in a rebel group at one point. It does make sense, we don't have the best 100 Test players. If you want Test cricket to be the best versus the best, a franchise league is a better option. It may also make it easier to pay each player what they deserve, which would also mean that players would be incentivised to put Test cricket first if that's their best format.

It would be a bold move to go away from what had made Test work, but too many things don't work with the national model.

The other thing a league like this would do is ensure that someone was actually running Test cricket. At the moment, no one is in charge of the Test game. Not the ICC, not the BCCI, not no one. And so many of the problems aren't fixed.

Let's talk about some smaller interesting ones. Many people suggested taking bouncers away, making this a battle Royale type sport. I get it, but I find it hard to think in this world of CTE and duty of care, we're about to let people go free for all with the dangerous stuff.

No one sent this in this time, but people have suggested to me before that we should remove bails from international cricket. We now have technology that lets us know if the ball has hit the stumps. Well, more or less. But we also know that sometimes the ball can hit the stumps, and the bails don't fall. I'm ok with this, but if I'm redesigning the game, maybe it makes sense to take the unnecessary prop off.

Speaking about default stuff that makes no sense in the modern world, shaping our game around lunch breaks is stupid in 2022. We need breaks, but surely they should be flexible and equal time.

And let me finish with a favourite of mine I'll take from my t20 suggestions. If T20 is really to be the best against the best, let's glam it up. Do we need number XIs facing a part-time spinner? We could give Test cricket a bench.

And I am not talking of injury subs; that's too easy to cheat. And outside of blood and concussions, I don't think there are many - of any - injury substitute sports. I promise on any day ending with a y I could find an injury to sub out every fast bowler. I'm talking about a bench.

The history of substitutions in football is really interesting. But in truth, while they had it in football as far back as the 1850s, in-game changes didn't come about until the 1950s. And Rugby was even later. The idea of substitutes in English sport didn't really exist. It was the American sports that had them. So cricket would have seen no need to have them.

And you might like part-timers and number eleven. But the question is would you devise the game from scratch to send out men who cannot play with the bat to face it. It's a fantastic quirk of our game, but I'm not sure you'd start with it now. In fact, most cricket conversations in the media and fans is about who is in the team. Days spent moaning that teams misread the wicket.

I am also not talking about the stupid sub rule. Let's change that so every team has a two quicks, a couple of new ball seamers, and every kind of spinner they want. Maybe a keeper who specialise in quicks for the start of the game, and a separate one for keeping up at the end. We haven't even got to the batters. You could have strength versus strength all game through.

We never quite got there with Tests, and in truth, as cricket changes so much, we might actually have more opportunities not less. One day, like what happened with Rugby or motor racing, there might be a split, and Test cricket will get the chance to go its own way.

I have no idea if any of these will ever occur, and there is no rush to redesign Test cricket from anyone I can see. More often it's just dirty bandages on an open wound. These changes might feel like chopping off a limb to some. But it shows two things, our game grew in spectacularly weird ways, and there is no reason modern life can't continue to change it, as it has always done.