The International Cricket Council on Friday unveiled a long-awaited, nine-nation Test championship Friday in a bid to preserve the five-day format’s status following the rapid growth of Twenty20.
The Test league was among a raft of reforms agreed at an ICC board meeting in Auckland, including revamping the one-day international schedule and trialling four-day Tests.
While still in its nascent stage, the ICC has clarified broad points pertaining to the both leagues.
- The Test league will start in 2019 and see nine teams play six series over two years –- three home and three away. It will culminate in a final between the two top teams at Lord’s.
- The nine nations in the competition are Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and West Indies.
- The league will function on a points system, with a full week-by-week tours programme that is yet to be finalised by the international cricket body.
- The ICC will also establish a 13-nation one-day international league starting in 2020, with results counting towards 2023 World Cup qualification.
- Each side will play four home and four away series each comprising of three ODIs moving to all teams playing each other from the second cycle onwards. (This also signals the end of bilateral ODI series longer than three ODIs.)
Reasoning behind the move
- The ICC has argued for years that a Test championship is needed to boost the format’s popularity as crowds and TV viewers flock to the fast-paced, big-hitting Twenty20 version of the game.
- They said the league structure would give added context to Test and ODI fixtures, rather than the current system of bilateral series which have little bearing on other teams.
Other steps ICC has taken to revive Test cricket’s popularity
- A recent innovation designed to reverse the trend is the introduction of day-night Test matches, which moves playing sessions to more spectator-friendly hours after dark.
- The Auckland meeting also agreed to experiment with four-day Tests, with South Africa and Zimbabwe set to trial the first in December.
- ICC chief executive Dave Richardson emphasised that the shorter Test matches were only being trialled and their results would not be part of the new Test championship.
Third time lucky
- ICC had first appointed a committee to examine the concept back in 1998. But squabbling over formats, and fears that some nations will be disadvantaged, have twice stymied efforts to launch a league structure since 2010.
- A version was supposed to begin in 2013 but was scrapped because existing commercial arrangements meant the ICC was obliged to stage the one-day Champions Trophy instead.
- Then plans for a June 2017 launch were scuppered when some of the game’s powerbrokers, including India, objected to a proposed two-tier league system, saying smaller teams would be disadvantaged.
- There was also a reported lack of interest from television companies.
What it means for India
- India is one of the countries where footfall for Tests has been on the decline compared to heady days of early 2000s, especially for games against low-profile teams. The popularity of the shorter format is obviously making an impact.
- The concept though could face hurdles when it is India’s turn to face Pakistan. Bilateral ties remain severed between the two teams since 2012-13 due to the strained political climate between the neighbours.
- Currently, the two teams play each other only in ICC events. Considering the league technically falls under this category, it will be interesting to see what stance the Indian Board or even the Government takes in this context.
- Due the security concerns in Pakistan, their home games are hosted in Dubai at the moment. However, India has refrained from even travelling to the city to play a bilateral series.
- Last year, the India women’s team were docked points for skipping three matches against Pakistan in the Women’s Championship tournament. The incident meant that the team had to play two qualifying games to make reach the World Cup in England.
Watch the ICC CEO Dave Richardson explain the changes and the reasoning behind them here:
With inputs from AFP