The Timeless Test that ended in a draw

Afsan Chowdhury
Thursday, February 8th, 2018

Liton Das and Mominul Haque of Bangladesh forged a crucial partnership against Sri Lanka in Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury stadium, Chittagong, on the 5th day of the first test match. (Source: AP)


When Bangladesh escaped with a draw in Chittagong on February 4, 2018, against Sri Lanka many were relieved that Test matches were only five days long. After all, when the Test was declared drawn, it was because there was no time left to play on for a decision.  Bangladesh was saved by the 5 day Test match limit.


But suppose Test matches would go on and on till a decision was reached? Some may find it hard to believe but there was a time when exactly such a system was in place.


The timeless Test


The “Timeless Test” match was designed to ensure that decisions were always reached. It was like a solution to prevent draws.  The match was to be played until one side won or the match was tied, with theoretically no possibility of a draw.


The main points of the Test match were A. It is not possible to play defensively for a draw because there was no allotted time -5 days for e.g.- which would run out. B. Delays or time loss due to bad weather was also not possible as the match would continue after the bad weather was over. C. Motivation for declaration would also be non-existent since play would go on and on and the concept of time advantage would not be there.


“Time pressure should not affect the chances of winning the game.” That was the motto of the concept of the Timeless Test. But time won in the end.


The last Timeless Test


The last timeless Test was the fifth Test between England and South Africa held at Durban in 1939.  “It was abandoned as a draw after nine days of play spread over twelve days, otherwise the England team would have missed the boat for home.”


The Test began on March 3rd. South Africa set a target of 696 for England to win. But England had to leave to catch their boat home, on 14 March. England had reached 654 for 5 which incidentally was the highest first class second innings score. Thus, travel schedule, always a matter of time and convenience won over the ‘timeless’ concept, always a matter of ideal.


It’s ironic that after playing for ten days and over 46 hours of cricket, it achieved the only result, it was supposed to avoid, a draw.


Cricinfo writes, “ The sad thing was that when rain came as the players headed off for tea, the match was at its most tantalizing with England, who finished within 42 runs of victory with five wickets in hand, firmly in the driving seat.”


From expectation to disappointment


It was clear from the start that the last day of the match had to be the last day if England were to return home by the 1000-mile train journey to Cape Town in time to catch their boat home on March 17. Plus rains were on the “As the players headed off for tea, the heavens opened. The rain eased off after the interval but as the players trooped back down the pavilion steps, it started pouring again. This time there was little chance of resumption.”


“The captains consulted and, for a time, it seemed as if the MCC management and South African board were considering extending the game to the Wednesday lunchtime, what would have been the 11th day. There was even talk that the squad could go on and leave the two not-out batsmen and the four yet to bat behind to play on, or even that a plane could be chartered to replace the train.”


“But England had to be on the train leaving Durban at 8.05pm in order to catch the Athlone Castle and so the game had to be abandoned as a draw.” (Cricinfo)


Stats and Trivia


  • At ten days, this was the longest first-class match in history
  • A record 5,463 deliveries were bowled in the match
  • Wally Hammond hit his 21st Test hundred, equaling the record of Don Bradman
  • No previous Test had ever produced as many as 16 fifties by both teams
  • Each side in the Test scored over 900 runs – South Africa 1,011, England 970
  • This was the biggest aggregate of runs in any first-class match, 1,981


Time didn’t wait for the timeless Test


Shipping schedule, train journeys, weather, etc that is all the reasons why the form of Tests was invented to avoid the causes of a draw ultimately caused the draw. Another reason that made a big difference was the lack of interest of the promoters, advertisers etc. They were not keen and one is not sure either if audience interest was sustained. So it was last played in 1939 after which the World War 2 moved in and changed the world forever.


In today’s world, for every reason then and many more now, it can’t be a regular feature. But maybe one such Test match can be held just one more time if only to prove that time has moved on.

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