Every industry has its working hours. Depending on the job, some work harder and longer than others. As a chef, I've often worked 24 hour days. I used to work 23-days from 6am to 10pm before having 5-days off before starting another 23-days. I often worked 6am on Sunday to 10pm the following Wednesday, and once worked 66 consecutive days.
I was not paid any more for long or consecutive days worked on jobs 'sold as 8-hour days’. Exhausted, frustrated, hot, bothered or otherwise, a chef’s life is governed equally by the demands of the public and one’s commitment to the job.
These are observations, not complaints!
Every kitchen has a ‘last order’ time, which for me is fluid. If someone walked into my restaurant shortly after the kitchen was ‘closed’, I’d be happy to serve them, as quite often the kitchen is still working to complete orders. We all work to keep ourselves in a job, which may at times require a touch of overtime.
Bringing this 'argument' to cricket why then, when required to bowl 90-overs in one day, do Test cricketers go home before their job is done? A playing habit that has infuriated me since my first Australian Cricket Tour to the West Indies 1995. Even with 30-mins ‘overtime’ to get their job done, why now, more than ever, do we still only see 89-overs bowled in a day? Or 85, perhaps just 80, or, as the worst I’ve seen, just 74-overs?
Test cricket is supposed to be played to a minimum of 90-overs per day, over 6-hours (excluding 30-mins overtime), yet appears to be played to 90-overs OR 6.5-hours, whichever comes first. This is wrong! It is moving the goal posts, bringing in the boundary, turning the stove off at 9.45pm and not 10pm.
Is there any other code where the parameters of play are as changeable as a cricket ball beaten out of shape? Test cricket is a game played over 5-days where one lazy day at the start can result in 30-overs of lost play by the end, yet still played over 2.5-hours of more time.
Playing conditions have changed over the years from players walking off at 6pm regardless of how many overs have been bowled, to the final session going 3.5-hours just to get the 90-overs bowled. Now, teams walk off after 30-mins of overtime with sadly any overs not bowled ‘lost to the game’. Who chooses to play to those conditions? When you see the lethargy and disregard for bowling 90-overs in a day, all Test captains do.
What's more insulting are bowlers running back to their mark to finish an over so they can fit in another over. They've not 'hurried' all day so why start rushing one-minute before stumps???
The bottom line is 90-overs in a day are scheduled to be played and should be delivered, no matter how long they take to complete. Not only for the sake of the game (why deny your team one over of opportunity to win?) but importantly, the humble spectators that pay to watch 90-overs of cricket.
Why are spectators ripped off by a game whose simplest perameter of bowling 90-overs in one day is so unpoliced? Among other Cricket Umpires, I asked Tony Hill in Barbados during the Australia Cricket Tour Of The West Indies 2012, why umpires don’t push to get 90-overs bowled? "It's up to the fielding Captain!"
I asked Billy Bowden in Nagpur during Australia's Cricket Tour of India 2008 why, after going off early the day before 'mid-over', did they 'finish the over' the next day, before starting the 90? "The scorecard would look weird with one bowler not completing the over." So, we can finish part of an over that should have been 'lost to the game' but we can't bowl one more over to finish the 90???
Umpires are supposed to control the game, yet only do when it comes to light or rain, with actions often beyond spectator understanding. During England vs Pakistan Test Match in Southampton 2020, bad light delayed the start yet after just one hour the game was stopped for a 40mins lunch break! Why?
Umpires quickly get their watch out when it comes to adjusting breaks of play but where is this watch when it comes to starting play? Regardless of which umpire's watch is used to adjudge ‘time’, if the clock in the ground says 1031am when the umpire calls ‘play’ then it must read 1231pm before the umpire calls 'lunch'. Yet, all too often we start at 1031am or 1032am (or 1134am, Day 2, Perth 2008), yet at 1230pm the umpire calls ‘lunch’ and off we go.
Cricket commentators often say at 1229am ‘we will squeeze one more over in before lunch’ which is incorrect. The 2nd session starts after they have stopped for 40mins so they don’t 'squeeze in' another over they just have one more before re-starting 40mins later, such as 1312pm. This means tea must be at 1512pm yet at 1510pm, and without 'squeezing in' another over, they go off to squeeze lemon in their Darjeeling. Ultimately, the spectator will be robbed of another over or two, presuming 90-overs in one day won’t be bowled before 6pm!
I often hear, ‘it is extremely hot out there’. If it is so hot, why spend 30-mins more out there than they must? And what’s the excuse in England, Hobart, New Zealand, or anywhere when it’s 10-degrees? Bowl 90-overs in 6-hours and everyone can have their ice-baths (or hot chocolates) sooner. No one can use heat as an excuse for not bowling 90-overs in one day when much time is wasted during the captain’s committee hosted between overs and Ricky Ponting was best.
From the moment Ricky assumed the captaincy for the Australian Cricket Tour to Sri Lanka 2004, match after match until retirement he held lengthy discussions with the bowler at the top of his mark before running back to slips. It wasn’t only mid-session or change of bowler either it was before the first ball of the match or session. Much time wasted when the bowler should already know what the captain wants, so it was no surprise Australia regularly did not bowl 90 overs in one day.
During one press conference, Ricky was quizzed on deplorable over-rates and replied, “I don’t care about over rates, I care about winning. The test was won in 4 days so what does it matter?” It matters to the people that pay for the game, spectators! It is easy to say it doesn’t matter when you win inside 4 days, but what do captains say when the game is drawn because there weren’t enough overs to get that one wicket or 20-30 runs to win? I bet the team that could have won wish they still had the 10 or more overs that were ‘lost to the game’ on day's 1, 2, 3, & 4.
Whether it costs A$15 to watch a Test Match in Sri Lanka or £150 per day at Lord’s, every spectator pays to see 90-overs bowled per day. Should paying A$15 mean we only deserve 80 overs in one day in Sri Lanka? No! Though, we deserve at least 150-overs when paying £150 per day at Lord’s that’s for sure, and that is my point. You can’t value 90-overs any more or less because of the entrance price, by the same token you can’t blame the heat.
Ignoring spectators by not giving them what they pay for is shameful, but you cannot ignore the fact of the game; 90-overs in one day must be bowled to set the parameters in which the Test match is competed!
How can the ICC rule a game yet let players control the game by not bowling 90-overs in one day? Limiting added-time to the final session to 30-mins was introduced to reduce physical demand on players when the 3rd session often exceeded 3-hrs. Most of today’s players are elite athletes so it should be easier to finish a day's work, compared with the era of player's drinking beer and chain-smoking at the break.
This said, rarely does any player spend everyday day in the field so ‘physical demand’ is a thin debate, when many have their feet up on many days. And with only 20mins break between the 2nd and 3rd sessions, making up to 4.5hours of playing time, show they can play with longevity!
So, let’s ask, do we play 90-overs or 6.5-hours per day? It can’t be both and that’s what shits me. Tennis best of 5 sets. Golf least number of strokes. Snooker best of 35 frames. Marathon 26 miles. However long they take to run it, or however many strokes over par, shots to pot, or how long the tie-breaks. Remember Wimbledon 2010, John Isner vs Nicolas Mahut? The match played over 3-days, lasted 11 hours 5minutes with the final set decided 70-68. The 5th set was longer than the previous record 'longest match'! So, why does test cricket bring a 'daily' time limit into it?
It reminds me of a comment a mate said, “I like that there is a different number of overs per day, it adds uncertainty!” That’s like saying the team batting second in an ODI only has 48 overs because we want to add ‘uncertainty’. Unlike ODI’s and T20’s when the final over must be started within a certain time, why isn’t Test cricket played strictly to the format of 90-overs per day? Why doesn't Test cricket HAVE to bowl 90 overs?
The argument has raged for years from how to speed up over-rates to what penalty can be applied for not bowling 90-overs in one day. You can penalise teams or captains for slow over-rates, but the fine is paid, and the game goes on, slowly. Radical change is required and instead of painting over the cracks and pretending that we will get 100+ overs per day when Test cricket is reduced to 4-days, here is what I'd like to see happen.
Umpires are always looking at their watch to know when they can go off, so let’s make it easier on them and much fairer for the paying spectator. In the simplest of formats, forget 2 hour sessions and what we know as lunch and tea. Instead, bowl 30-overs and stop for 35-mins. Bowl 30-overs and stop for 35-mins. Bowl 30-overs and go home. How imposing would that be on anyone, whilst structuring a day’s play in a way everyone can understand?
35-mins break allows 5-mins to get off and back on the field because quite obviously, players and umpires do not have 40mins or 20-mins 'break' when several minutes are spent getting off and back on the field. When Test Cricket goes to 4-days, play 33-35-overs per session with 45-min breaks.
If rain or bad light stop plays for more than 20mins, then resume to bowl 30-overs (min) before the next break. Standardising sessions to the number of overs bowled and not time removes time-wasting employed by both sides trying to lose an over or two late in a day. If that 'time wasting' opportunity is removed, the game may be played a lot faster also!
90-overs in one day should mean 90 overs of 'full play' per day, helped by removing the ‘official’ drinks break for a start. This is just a loss of 5mins when there is more than enough stoppages for change of bats, gloves, helmets, or even real injuries for players and umpires to receive drinks! Notably, with every fall of wicket (even after the 1st ball of the day) and wicket reviews, both sides have waiters run on with beverages. These breaks too are to blame for 90-overs not being bowled and something seemingly unpoliced by the umpires.
There are traditions of the game to respect and uphold but we live in an age where players are now allowed to question an umpires decision, red-ball Test cricket is played under-lights with a pink ball, with the tea-break first and 'dinner-break' second. We have flashing stumps to know when the bails have been dislodged, dismissals reversed because of 'replayed' no-balls, and teams playing in 'traditional creams' with numbers & names on their backs. So I don’t think it too strange to ask players to do a full day’s work that, like me, they have chosen to do!