London: Ben Stokes made an emphatic case for five-day Test cricket this week by inspiring England to a series-levelling win against South Africa in the final overs of the match.
His match-winning performance in Cape Town on Tuesday came at a time of intense debate over the future of the longest form of the game, which has been played since 1877.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) now wants to reduce Tests to four days as part of structuring the global calendar beyond 2023. The proposal, part of an effort to tackle the crowded international cricket calendar and save on costs. But it has divided players, many of whom consider Test cricket the gold standard of the game.
The ICC allowed four-day Tests in 2017 and they have been tried in one-off games between South Africa and Zimbabwe and England against Ireland. But they are not allowed in the Test world championship.
The Cricinfo website said mandatory four-day Tests during the current cycle from 2015 to 2023 would have freed up a total of 335 days of cricket over the period.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has offered "cautious" backing to the proposal and Australia and New Zealand have said four-day Tests deserve serious consideration.
Several top cricketers are against the idea and the global players' representative body has warned of "significant player resistance". Others such as Shane Warne have voiced support for a change.
England all-rounder Stokes claimed the last three South Africa wickets at Newlands to earn a 189-run victory for England, who levelled the four-match series at 1-1 on Tuesday.
Afterwards he and England captain Joe Root spoke out in favour of the longer format, which allows the drama and nuances of the game time to play out.
“It's why five-day cricket should always be around. It's the best form of the game," said Stokes, England's man of the match.
Root's opposite number, Faf du Plessis, also said he did not support a move towards four-day Test matches, despite a statement by Cricket South Africa that it was official policy to back a reduced format.
England director of men's cricket Ashley Giles said on Wednesday that five-day Tests were "precious".
"If we played four-day cricket, I fear we would miss out on a lot of matches like yesterday (England's win)," Giles told the BBC.
"I know a lot of Test matches now don't go to the fifth day -- but you know it is precious to me, and I know it is to the players."
India’s Virat Kohli spoke earlier this month about his opposition to any move to cut a day from Tests, questioning where it would ultimately lead. With four-day Tests "you are purely only talking about getting numbers in and entertainment, and I think the intent will not be right," said the India skipper.
“Then you will speak of three-day Tests. I mean, where do you end?...