Gimme five: Rivalry worthy of Ashes status, but extending series is difficult

When Mohammad Azharuddin's India landed Australia in November 1991, they embarked on the kind of tour that is long gone in the days of T20 leagues and crammed international schedules.

It began with the old one-day warm-up match against the Australian Cricket Board XI at Perth's Lilac Hill before taking in regional stops at Wagga Wagga and Lismore to take on NSW Country and then a full-strength NSW side. There were also games against Western Australia and a Prime Minister's XI, a three-way 50-overs World Series with Australia and the West Indies, and, to close it out, the 1992 World Cup.

India and Australia started playing Test series over four matches in 2003.Credit:Getty Images

Australian officials have raised the subject with their counterparts the BCCI on other occasions over the past decade. David Peever, CA's chairman from 2015 to 2018, tried to get it over the line with then BCCI president Shashank Manohar during his time in charge while, before that, Wally Edwards, who fronted the CA board from 2011 to 2015, brought it up with opposite number N Srinivasan. They were met with polite responses but the proposals didn't go anywhere.

Of course, had the current series been over five Tests, India – given their attrition rate – might have needed 50 players in their tour party. And the psychological strain of living under biosecurity restrictions for such a long period of time meant five Tests this summer was always too big an ask.

Convincing India to give the Border-Gavaskar Trophy the same status as the Ashes, though, will continue to be a project of CA and current chair Earl Eddings.

There is little doubt the fierce rivalry is worthy of it. The spirit India have shown despite confronting so many setbacks here is proof of that, as was the most recent series in India, a hard-fought affair in 2017.

Mitchell Starc and Cameron Green celebrate the wicket of India captain Ajinkya Rahane on Sunday. Credit:AP

There is obviously a financial incentive, too, for Australian cricket in having India here for as long as possible. With the emergence of the world's second most populous nation as the sport's financial superpower this century, every extra day the Indian team plays in Australia translates to significantly more revenue from television companies on the subcontinent.

But the challenges in adding a Test for future series may be insurmountable. Australia and England can play five Tests because they don't share the same season. India would rather be playing at home in December and January than being abroad for any longer than they need to be.

Additionally, a five-Tests series requires visiting sides to be away for a minimum of nine weeks at a time, which neither can arguably afford to do given the content they are contractually obliged to deliver at home each year and their commitments to play other teams around the world.

With one-day internationals locked in under the ICC Cricket World Cup Super League and teams playing more bilateral T20 internationals, there isn't much time on a tour to spare.

Also, the commercial reality is that the value of an extra Test, which would extend a tour by a fortnight, is marginal compared with the other formats.

Even so, Australian administrators aren't giving up. Australia will play four Tests in India on their next visit in 2022. But they still hope that when India return here, whenever that is, there will be five.

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