I love all forms of cricket: 5 day cricket, 50 over cricket and 20 over cricket. I do not have any preference for the one format over the other, and because I am retired I love the mixed tours that provide the opportunity to see all three formats during a relatively short period.
I have noticed that several journalists, retired cricketers and many older fans accept as axiomatic the notion that 5 day cricket is a “better” form of cricket. They speak of it glibly as the “ultimate” form of the game. On occasions they attempt, not with much success, in my view, to explain the reasons for their belief. It seems to me that they are driven by the mistaken belief that the game
needs to promote this belief in a hierarchy. I, on the other hand believe that at this point in the history of the game the different formats need one another, and if anything 5 day cricket needs the shorter formats more than vice versa. Attempts to belittle some formats are actually counterproductive, and what is more the rationale for the invidious comparisons is not sound.
Mike Atherton made an attempt on the second day of the third 5 day match in the current England versus South Africa series to expound on the quality of the mental approach required for 5 day cricket by emphasising the changes in conditions that take place over 5 days, and the importance of being able to adjust to such changes. I suspect he forgot that originally, and indeed well into the 1920s or ʼ30s ‘Test’ matches were played to the finish, and would on occasion go beyond 5 days.
The most obvious reason that the longer form of the game takes so much time is that there are two innings, which means that every player gets two opportunities to bat. The idea behind that could not have been to present more challenges to test players’ capacity to adjust. It more likely was to give them a second chance because the odds of batting failure were and still are empirically quite high. The shorter forms of the game were introduced for one reason only, namely, to make the game shorter. The shorter formats require players, especially batsmen, to play more aggressively, that is, in essence being able to score from the kind of balls that in the longer format would require a defensive posture. There are no draws in the shorter formats so no one plays for time. Everything is done at a much faster pace and more attention is paid to fielding, which has improved dramatically with the introduction of the shorter formats. It is not insignificant that the best cricketers tend to dominate all formats. It may well have been a serious mistake to use different rules (except where absolutely necessary) in the different formats. Frankly, even the ball ought to be the same in all formats. The administrators must recognise that there is a significant block of fans who prefer the shortest form of the game, which has become very popular and therefore generates more income for players and the entrepreneurs who tend to own the teams that specialise in the shorter formats.
All formats of this great game can thrive. Invidious comparisons help neither format.