Will cricket go the football way? Over the last few days, the International Cricket Council, the governing body of the sport, has been making plenty of noise about reforms which could potentially change the way the game is played. They have been careful to admit that these are proposals and nothing is concrete yet, but the very fact that these ideas have been mooted for a sport that has been struggling with a lack of context in recent times is promising.
Two ideas have been proposed. The first idea concerns the oldest and longest format of the game – Test cricket. According to David Richardson, chief executive of the ICC, discussions are underway to add greater context to Test cricket by introducing two divisions within the game from 2019. The other proposal concerns the fifty-over format – One Day International cricket – with plans to set up a new unified league with 13 nations, culminating in a play-off series between the top two to decide the winner.
Here’s a quick explainer to get you up to speed with what’s been doing the rounds.
Test cricket background
Whether Test cricket is dying or not has been perennially up for debate throughout its 139-year history, but the fact is it has seen better times. Test matches outside of Australia and England are held to sparse turnouts with low interest levels. India’s high-profile Test series against South Africa last winter also saw poor crowds.
The glaring lack of context in the format is cited as one of the reasons for the declining interests in Test cricket. In 2011, the ICC proposed a World Test Championship among the top four teams, but both the proposed editions in 2013 and 2017were cancelled because of financial reasons. When the “Big Three” cricketing countries — India, Australia and England — completed a structural overhaul of the ICC, giving themselves greater powers, they also drew up plans for a system of promotion and relegation in Test cricket, but with exemptions for the three of them. That idea, however, never took off.
What’s proposed now?
Two divisions of Test cricket, with seven teams in Division One and five in Division Two. Relegation and promotion would take place at the end of a two-year cycle with no exemptions. This would mean an increase in the number of nations playing Test cricket from currently 10 to 12. This would be great news for nations such as Ireland and Afghanistan, who have been doing consistently well in the shorter formats over the recent past but not been given any clear pathway to play the longest format of the game.
“There’s a general realisation now that, if we’re going to keep Test cricket going well into the future, we can’t just say it’s going to survive on its own,” Richardson said. “Unless we can give some meaning to these series beyond the rankings and a trophy, then interest in Test cricket will continue to waver.”
This two-division system could come into existence by 2019. At the end of the cycle, it is proposed that the bottom-placed team in Division One be relegated to Division Two, with the top-placed team in Division Two being promoted to Division One.
Each Test match would carry ranking points, with Richardson expressing hope that every qualifying Test series would consist of three Tests. However, teams would also be free to organise Test series outside the cycle, which means there is no danger of flagship series like the Ashes being disrupted.
What’s the verdict?
This is a plan which is still far from fruition. The ICC has been talking about providing context to Test cricket for many years now. It will be interesting to see how the BCCI reacts to this move since they may not be open to the prospect of providing Test status to more nations.
However, despite the pessimism, it is a great idea and couldn’t have come sooner. Nations like Afghanistan and Ireland need to be rewarded for their performances and given the chance to play Test cricket, the highest format of the game. In a fast-changing world, the old order of bilateral series just doesn’t cut it anymore. Sport needs context and Test cricket, despite its hallowed origins, cannot be indifferent to it.
Not just Test cricket, but if the ICC has its way, even 50-over cricket is poised for reform.
One-Day International cricket was wildly popular in the 1990’s but the advent of Twenty20 cricket has taken away some of its glory. It now sits uncomfortably between Test cricket, the longest format of the game celebrated by purists, and Twenty20, the shortest format, which is getting newer audiences to the ground. There have even been calls for the format to be scrapped.
However, ODI cricket still enjoys decent crowds, with the last World Cup in 2015 getting plenty of eyeballs. Like Test cricket, the problem lies with the bilateral series – to maximise revenues, teams routinely organise five or seven-match series which, without any context, do not make for the best viewing.
What’s been proposed?
Thirteen teams – the 10 Test playing nations and three other Associate nations, will be part of a new ODI league from 2019. Over a three-year cycle, they would play a three-match series either home or away against each other, which would mean 36 ODIs for each nation. At the end, a play-off series of either five or three matches would be held to determine the winner, while the bottom-placed nation would clash against the top-placed nation of the second tier World Cricket League Champions and be relegated if they lose.
This does not mean that current tournaments such as the World Cup or the Champions Trophy will fade into oblivion – the fourth year in the cycle will be dedicated for World Cup preparations. The league would also decide seeding and qualification for the flagship World Cup.
The 10 Test-playing nations will be part of the first ODI league, with three other Associate countries joining them. Ireland and Afghanistan are the two most likely participant Associate nations, but the third is still unknown. The ICC is eager to add Nepal to the league but on current ranking, the Netherlands would make the cut since they are at the top of the World Cricket League Championship.
What’s the verdict?
England’s limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan voiced the first signs of criticism on Tuesday as he said that he felt cricket was in a “reasonable position” at the moment and he was not sure whether the game required it. Morgan’s concerns probably derived from the packed international calendar and the ICC will need to take note of those concerns if they want to go ahead with the proposed league.