The number of days allocated to a men’s Test match has varied over time, and I thought it would be helpful to summarise that variation for England, where a reasonably clear pattern can be seen. Variations in the number of hours allocated for each day’s play are beyond the scope of this note. I should like to thank members of the ACS email forum for helpful comments on an earlier draft. I retain responsibility for any errors.
The actual scheduling for men’s Test matches in England may be summarised as follows:
- 1880 to 1949 inclusive: all matches scheduled for three days, except:
- v Australia: four days in 1930, 1934, 1938; five days in 1948; final matches of series played to a finish in 1912, 1926, 1930, 1934, 1938, but no extra time in 1921 or 1948 when the series winner had already been determined.
- v South Africa: four days in 1947.
- 1950 to date: all matches scheduled for five days, except:
- v Ireland: four days in 2019.
- Final matches of series: six days v Australia in 1953, 1972, 1975.
- The World Test Championship Final (India v New Zealand) in 2021 was scheduled for five days with a reserve day available. The sixth day was used after the first scheduled day was completely lost.
The following remarks on the scheduling of men’s Tests are mainly based on the Meetings section at the end of each year’s Wisden.
For each of 1912, 1926, 1930, 1934, and 1938, when the series had not been decided, the final Test was scheduled with the intention of playing to a finish, and the fixtures cleared to allow six days for that purpose. Since all of the matches ended within six days, it cannot be said with certainty what would have been done had any of these matches not finished within that time.
The original schedule for the Test matches due to be played by West Indies in 1950 was set at a meeting on 10 November 1948, as reported in Wisden 1949 (page 916), and consisted of four three-day matches. It was only after the New Zealand tour in 1949 that the schedule for 1950 was revised. Wisden 1950 (page 953) reports a decision of the English authorities, taken on 15 November 1949, to recommend that the duration of the 1950 Tests should be extended to five days.
For the visit by South Africa in 1951, Wisden 1950 (page 952) reports a provisional schedule of four-day matches set at a meeting on 15 November 1949. Wisden 1951 (page 966) reports a meeting on 15 November 1950 at which “It was agreed to continue for a further two years the experiment started in 1950 of allowing five days for Test matches in England” so that South Africa in 1951 and India in 1952 would play five-day matches, and gives a schedule for India in 1952.
Wisden 1952 (page 1004) gives the provisional schedule for Tests against Australia in 1953 with five days allowed for each of the first four Tests and the fifth Test “beginning on [Saturday] August 15”, noting that the duration of the fifth Test was still under discussion. Wisden 1953 (page 989) reports an announcement at a meeting in March 1952: “Australia agreed that, as in 1948, the Fifth Test at The Oval in 1953 should be limited to five days.” John Arlott’s Test Match Diary (page 152), in his final remarks on the Fourth Test, has the following: “I can only hope, as I wrote for the Evening News last week, that an arrangement will be reached between M.C.C. and the Australian Board of Control to allow the Oval Test to go to six days, if necessary, for a result.” On page 157, Arlott states “… despite official denials that it would be asked for, the extra day – next Friday – has been allocated to the game”. Cricinfo and Cricket Archive both give the scheduled duration of the Oval Test as six days: it finished in four.
Provisional dates for Test series beyond 1953 were given in Wisden as five-day matches without further comment. Wisden 1956 (page 1015) reports the following decision from a meeting of 8 March 1955:
“In future all members of the Imperial Cricket Conference visiting England will play five five-day Test Matches. This will bring India, West Indies, New Zealand and Pakistan into line for the first time with Australia and South Africa.”
Note that “into line for the first time” relates more to the number of matches than to the length of each match. This lasted until the start of “twin tours” in 1965 following a decision at the Imperial Cricket Conference in 1963 (Wisden 1964 page 987), further details of the implementation being announced in January 1964 (Wisden 1964 page 990).
The “normal” scheduled length for a Test match has remained five days ever since. Wisden 1960 (page 989) reports reports a meeting on 18 November 1959 at which a request from South Africa to play four-day Tests in 1960 was discussed but not accepted. The England v Ireland Test in 2019 was scheduled for four days, which allowed sufficient gaps either side of that Test after the (50-over) World Cup Final and before the start of the England v Australia Test series.
ICC Playing Conditions adopted in July 1995 (Wisden 1997 page 1338) allowed countries to agree the possibility of play either on the scheduled rest day or on a reserve day if a whole day’s play had been lost, but include the requirement “Play shall not take place on more than five days.” The version given in Wisden 1996 (page 1333) does not include the clause on reserve days, but neither version claims to be a complete listing of the playing conditions.
The provision for an extra day if a whole day’s play had been lost was never used for home Tests by England. With the start of the World Test Championship, this provision was included in the conditions for the Final, but no longer applicable in other Test matches.
The other exception to five-day matches relates to the scheduling of a sixth day in cases where the series winner had not been determined before the final Test. A similar provision had applied only when Australia were the visitors, when the final Test was played to a finish if necessary. The 1953 series has been discussed above. For the next four series when England hosted Australia, the series winner had not been settled before the final Test, but only five days were allowed each time. The 1956, 1961, and 1964 Oval Tests were drawn in five days. England won the Oval Test in 1968 to level the series. The match was concluded on the fifth day, but reports are clear that the match could not have gone into a sixth day.
Wisden 1970 (pages 1056 and 1057) reports plans for the use of up to three reserve days in the final Test against South Africa, but only if the series was level at the start of the match, and only to make up lost time to the intended 30 hours’ play. It is not clear if this provision was carried over to the unofficial Test series which replaced the South African tour: in the event, the Rest of the World side had already gained a lead of two matches before the final match was played.
Wisden 1973 (page 1044) clarified a report in Wisden 1972 (page 1089) that a sixth day would be available for the Oval Test in 1972 “if either side was not more than one match ahead after four games”. The previous report had said “if the sides were level after the first four matches”.
The only time that the extra day was potentially available for visitors other than Australia was in 1976. Wisden 1976 (page 1135) reports from the TCCB meeting in November 1975 that, if West Indies agreed, the sixth day would only be available if the sides were all square. As things turned out, West Indies led by two matches before the final Test, and they won that Test in five days, so the question of the extra day did not arise on either count. This appears to have been the last mention of the extra day in the Meetings section of Wisden. It is not clear whether the extra day could have been applicable in 1977, when England led by three matches before the final Test. The last Test of the England v India series in 1979 was drawn in five days.
ICC regulations for the duration of Test matches appear for the first time in Wisden 1981 (page 1183) and explicitly allow the participating countries to agree an extra day for the last Test if neither side has a lead of more than one match. This provision remained up to and including the version in Wisden 1995 (page 1322), when it was replaced by a more complete set of ICC Playing Conditions, as mentioned earlier.
Pelham Barton, March 2022