MCC leads push for revised Test rules

Cricket's oldest format could be in for some radical changes ahead of the inaugural Test Championship

Dave Middleton

13 March 2019, 07:07 PM AEST

Test cricket could be set for a radical shake-up under plans proposed by the influential MCC World Cricket committee that would see the introduction of free hits for no-balls, a countdown timer between overs and standardising the type of ball used in matches around the globe.

The committee – an independent body made up of past international cricketers including Australians Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne and Rod Marsh – made a series of recommendations ahead of the impending introduction of the Test Championship, which begins with the Ashes series in July.

The suggestions – which would need ratification by the ICC before they were included in the playing conditions for Test cricket – are primarily geared towards speeding up over rates in the longest format.

The MCC's committee said it was concerned by recent ICC statistics that showed over-rates in Test cricket were the lowest they had been in the past 11 years.

The recommendation to force all teams to play with the one brand of cricket ball around the globe has been met with mixed reviews.

Warne said it was a bid to 'level the playing field' for the Test championship.

"Whatever ball that is, that everyone deems the best, that does something, it seams, it swings, it keeps its shape for the longest period of time," Warne said after the committee meeting in India.

"Whatever ball that is, especially with the Test Championship coming up, if everyone plays with the ... same ball, I think it's a more equal playing field so you really do get (to find out) what is the best Test team in the world."

Currently, Dukes manufacture balls for Tests in England and the West Indies, while the SG ball is used in India, and the Kookaburra is used in all other countries.

The white Kookaburra is used for all ODI and T20 international cricket, while that manufacturer also supplies the pink ball used in day-night Test cricket.

The Dukes ball has been in use for the second half of the JLT Sheffield Shield in Australia for the past three seasons, including the ongoing one.

It remains unknown how the Dukes ball would fare in the abrasive conditions of the subcontinent, and the MCC will seek to trial it in that region before any decision on a preferred ball for the Test Championship would be made.

The recommendation to introduce free hits to Test cricket would mirror a practice already ingrained in the limited-overs formats.

The committee also wants a timer to count down from 45 seconds at the call of over, and if either side is not ready for the next over when the clock reaches zero, they receive a warning. Any subsequent infringements would see five penalty runs awarded to the opposition.

The countdown would be increased to 60 seconds for a new batsman on strike, and 80 seconds for a change of bowler.

The committee found while the Decision Review System (DRS) was partly responsible for the delays, "more urgency needed to be shown by the players, who should play a brand of 'ready-cricket' with more forward planning".

In addition to the timer between overs, a timer between the fall of wickets would also be introduced "potentially with variable times, depending on the distance from the dressing rooms to the pitch".

They also recommended streamlining the DRS protocols to jump forward to ball tracking data as soon as possible where it is relevant to the referred decision.