November 22 2018
People who aren’t enamoured of cricket often find it very amazing that a Test match should go on for five whole days! So imagine their reaction if they were to find out that there used to be a time when Test matches would go on and on, beyond the stipulated five days, until the match had a winner or finished as a tie. It was impossible to play defensively back then as theoretically those matches would never end as a draw. They were called Timeless Test matches and between, 1877 and 1939, 99 Timeless Tests were officially played.
All Tests in Australia until World War II were timeless. Only 2 of them were drawn, both against England in 1882, because the visiting team had to leave to board their ship back to England. The ninth match of the Triangular Tournament in 1912 was the first Timeless Test to be held in England.
Since train and ship schedules did not allow all matches to go on endlessly, several series would only play the last match as a Timeless Test if the series was still level or one of the teams was leading by one. This is what led to the first Timeless Test in South Africa in 1923. After four matches, the series between South Africa and England was still undecided, so the final match went into the sixth day when England finally won the match and claimed the series.
The last Timeless Test is also arguably the most memorable of the 99 official ones to be played. Contested between England South Africa in Durban in 1939, the match had to be abandoned after 9 days of play, spread over 12 days, as the Englishman had a train to catch if they were to make it in time for their ship that was set to sail back to England.
The match started on the 3rd of March but at the end of the day’s play on the 14th, England had reached 654 for 5 in the fourth innings (the highest ever fourth innings First Class score) and still needed 42 more runs to victory. Given the way they were playing,they would easily have coasted to victory on the 15th, but the match could not continue.
That was the last time a Timeless Test was ever played. Though it guaranteed a result, the impossibility of predicting the duration of the match made scheduling and commercial ventures difficult. These days, Test matches are played in consecutive weeks and this would’ve been impossible if Timeless Tests still existed.
The ICC had planned to make the final of the 2017 World Test Championship a Timeless Test but the tournament was ultimately cancelled.
They may have become a thing of the past but the very concept of a Timeless Test remains an intriguing, nostalgic concept!