MUMBAI: Introducing countdown clocks, a standard ball across the globe, and free hits after no-balls are some of the changes being eyed for test cricket as the custodians of the game's laws look to shore up its popularity amid the rise of lucrative Twenty20 leagues.
The future of the longest format of the game has been a subject of debate amid dwindling crowds for test matches outside Australia and England.
A recent survey by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the sole authority on the laws of cricket since it was founded in 1787, found an overwhelming 86 percent of fans still identified test cricket as their preferred format.
However, the survey also covered some of the key challenges in increasing attendances at ground and viewership of test matches and said players needed to show more urgency to speed up play with slow over rates being a key concern.
International Cricket Council (ICC) statistics from last May showed that over rates in the last year were the lowest in the 11 years that they had been measured, the MCC said.
A countdown clock could be one way of addressing the issue.
"A timer, to be shown on the scoreboard, to count down from 45 seconds from the call of 'Over'," the MCC statement said.
"If either side is not ready to play when the clock reaches zero, they would receive a warning, with further infringements in that innings resulting in five penalty runs being awarded to the opposition."
The MCC's world cricket committee said that the World Test Championship, scheduled to kick off after the 50-over World Cup, was the right platform to introduce a standard ball across the countries.
"The MCC World Cricket committee felt that it would benefit the Championship for a standard ball to be used in these matches, except for those played as day/night matches," it said.
"It would be for the ICC to choose which ball is most suitable, with the committee stressing that the balance between bat and ball is crucial.
"Trials of the use of different balls have been taking place in different countries at first class level. The committee felt that the World Test Championship provided the perfect opportunity to introduce this suggestion."
The last couple of months have been a great advertisement for tests with India registering their first test series victory in Australia, West Indies humbling England, and Sri Lanka becoming the first Asian country to win a series in South Africa.
The committee, made up of current and former international players and umpires, meets twice yearly to discuss issues in the game. Their suggestions are considered by the ICC cricket committee before recommendations are put to a general meeting of the world governing body.
The MCC committee also said the introduction of free hits for bowling no-balls could speed up the long format while providing entertainment for the fans. The system is already in use in white ball cricket.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Peter Rutherford)