A happy glimpse into the future
There were a number of important resolutions accepted in principle at the recent ICC chief executives meeting in Dubai, but the happiest and almost certainly most important was the principle of a Test Championship and international ODI league.
Ireland and Afghanistan are set to be welcomed to the top table of the sport, albeit with a seat at the bottom next to the fire escape. They will be joined by a third qualifier in the proposed 13-team ODI league.
The Test Championship works reasonably well in theory but will require the determination and goodwill of every one of the nine top nations, without exception, to work in practise.
Each country will play four home series and four away series in a two-year cycle after which the top two teams will play a ‘Super Test’ to decide the champion. In the following two years every team's ‘away’ fixtures will become the ‘home’ fixtures and vice versa.
As George Orwell said, however, some teams will be far more ‘equal’ than others. Australia and South Africa, for instance, believe that 12 test matches per year is the optimum number for their players while allowing sufficient time to participate in the IPL and their own domestic T20 league, as well as resting. England and India appear happy to play a few more – up to 15 a year.
South Africa has finally managed to establish its series against Australia, England and India as ‘iconic’ meaning more than three tests. In the event that two such series occur in the same year, there will be just four tests for two other opponents to share.
In the case of an Ashes year, Australia and England may be in a position to offer just a single test match to opposition such as the West Indies and Bangladesh.
It is not ideal, but is certainly a step in the right direction.
Further complicating matters is the ICC’s promise to schedule “regular” test cricket for the three minnows, Zimbabwe Afghanistan and Ireland – and not just amongst themselves. But the truth is, Australia, India, England and South Africa are NOT going to be playing test series against any of them.
A scheduling summit is scheduled for next month at which attempts will be made to pencil in an eight-year test schedule from 2019 to 2027. And also a schedule for ODI fixtures outside ICC events. The use of triangular and quadrangular tournaments will be the only way to fit everything in. But fit it all in they must!
The new formats can only be officially adopted at the next ICC meeting in April, by which time the BCCI may be fully functional and no longer being run by a temporary committee appointed by the supreme court.
Given India’s appalling away record in Australia, England, South Africa and even New Zealand, they would appear to be outsiders to even make the final of the new Test Championship, never mind win it. Let’s hope that’s not a reason for them to veto it.