Joy! World Test Championship Approved

J

Word has just reached us that hell has indeed frozen over. The ICC has reached an agreement to introduce a world test championship and ODI league from 2019. These competitions will start after the World Cup.

The test championship will run over a two year period. Each team will play six series (three home and three away) lasting at least two tests. The structure will be flexible to allow longer series if necessary e.g. The Ashes. The top nine ranked teams will take part. And the two teams at the top of the ladder at the end of the two year period will contest a test championship final. Let’s just hope it doesn’t rain for all five days.

The ODI league, which will finally kill off meaningless and tedious ODI series at the fag end of tours, will also run for two year cycles until 2023. After that it will be three year cycles. The competition will involve 13 teams. The thirteenth team will be the winner of the World Cricket League Championship.

My reaction to this news is “holy shit”! We’re used to shocks of a depressing nature but good shocks are rare for cricket fans these days – unless you’re a fan of cities, franchises, T20, and all that assorted bollocks.

We’d heard that something like this was in the pipeline but the jaundiced old git within me thought it would never happen. I mean, when was the last time cricket’s authorities actually managed to (a) pull their collective fingers out of their arses, and (b) actually agree on something simultaneously?

Although we’re still waiting to hear some of the details – they haven’t announced how the points system will work yet – I’m hugely encouraged by this news. Test cricket desperately needed a shake-up to capture the broader public’s imagination, and a championship over a two year period will add extra excitement and context to matches.

Part of me thought that the ICC might just reduce test cricket from five days to four, in the hope that contrived declarations and potentially higher run rates would create extra interest. Call it the Harrison / Graves model if you like. The arrival of an actual championship, something we’ve long campaigned for on this blog, is therefore most welcome indeed. I know that many of us thought it would simply be too hard to orchestrate and implement.

Talking of four day test cricket, the idea isn’t a dead duck yet. The ICC still intend to experiment with the idea and see what the reaction is. Again this is probably a sensible approach. Although I personally think it’s a bad idea, I’m willing to be proved wrong.

I’d love to know what everyone else thinks of this news. Although there will still be the odd boring dead-rubber match (particularly in the ODI league) it’s worth noting that results will count towards World Cup qualification.

It’s also great to know that institutions such as The Ashes can survive within the proposed system. It might be a bit odd if winning a five-match series gives a team the same number of championship points as winning a two-match series, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For the moment let’s just celebrate the fact that the ICC has recognised a problem, has tried hard to come up with a solution, and has possibly arrived at a decent one. It’s highly encouraging even if one generally has low expectations.

Well done to Shashank Manohar and his colleagues. There are still considerable challenges to overcome – playing the right amount of T20 cricket being the main one – but the depressing times when N Shrinivasan was ICC Chairman thankfully seem to be in the rearview mirror.

Today is a good day. Let’s enjoy it.

James Morgan

30 comments

  • Excellent news. Fingers crossed that the devil does not turn out to be in the detail. I’m all ears for the future of this. Brill.

  • This does indeed seem like good news, although the cynic in me says I’ll believe it when players appear in white to contest it. There are some quibbles, though. I presume that Ireland, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe (all of whom need test cricket) will be excluded, which is a pity. I think 2 divisions, with promotion and relegation, would have been better (maybe one for the future?). Do we get India v Pakistan series (please)? I’m not a fan of the idea of 4 day tests, though. See (recently) Headingley, and the two tests between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. All of these have had exciting 5th days.

  • Your optimism does you credit James – but I’m afraid as a grumpy old git, my take is rather different (and I’m not against a Test Championship per se, far from it).

    The introduction of four-day Tests is the key here. They’re doing it by salami-slicing tactics. The Test Championship format is a bodge and I strongly suspect has been set up to fail (or at the very best as a cover). Which would you bet will exist in ten years – the Test Championship or shorter Tests? We’re going to be worn down to support four-days (have you noticed both Boycott and Pietersen have given recent interviews supporting it – and Simon Hughes loves it on his new podcast) and those who can’t be won over will be marginalised as “traditionalists” and “obsessives”. They want less Test cricket to free up time for more white-ball cricket because it makes more money. It’s as simple as that. Everything else is bs.

    The lack of promotion/relegation and the fact that every team will not play each other is laughable. These ideas were floated earlier so we’re accustomed to them – but it is needs to be said again how wretched both of them are. No sports’ league that I can think of uses either idea and for good reason.

    There’s an implication in the ODI league that is also alarming. If qualification for the WC is coming from a pool of 13, then the WC is intended to have few competing teams for ever more. In other words, Giles Clarke’s ten-team WC for 2019 is not a one-off (which is bad enough), it’s the permanent new reality. That’s me done with cricket WCs, I’ve watched every one since the first but no more.

    The long-term agenda is to kill off Test cricket. This is just another step down that path.

    • It certainly seems that the rejoicing about Ireland and Afghanistan being allowed into the test club was premature. They’ve only been allowed into a 4-day antechamber of pseudo-tests.
      Surely the sort of money-grubbing, business-driven hyper-capitalist that seems to thrive at the top level of sport administration should understand the basics: when the product is sound, don’t screw with it. If the customers aren’t finding it in sufficient numbers, then the problem lies in the delivery, not the product.
      The test championship is a wait-and-see for me, but 4-day tests are New Coke.

    • If our Geoffrey supports the initiative in principle what’s the issue? The champion of ‘proper crikit’.
      Test cricket is a constantly evolving creature. It has never been a fixed idea. Test matches have been over 3 days. I believe the authorities recognise this and far from trying to kill it off are trying to ensure it survives in a viable and more interesting format to the punter. To make things more competitive has to be the way. There is no point to any professional sport if it struggles to interest the public. You may see this as dumbing down, but you only have to look at the empty seats to see the problem.

      • “If our Geoffrey supports the initiative in principle what’s the issue?”
        Can’t stand him as a commentator – he’s always been about himself as a brand. I respected him as a player amd have defended him here. It’s like saying Stanford was all right because Viv Richards and other former greats briefly backed him.
        “Test matches have been over 3 days”.
        Not for well over half a century and not in the era of covered wickets.
        “I believe the authorities recognise this”.
        You can believe this if you like – I see the head of the ECB comes from Costcutter and the head of the ACB comes from Rio Tinto and I don’t see any reason to give them the benefit of the doubt.
        “trying to ensure it survives in a viable and more interesting format to the punter”.
        As they keep telling us, many Tests already last only four days – and the punters are not coming in. If Test cricket is unattractive, it’s not because of five days.
        “To make things more competitive”
        Four day Tests has nothing to do with competitiveness, they are completely separate issues. If they were serious about competitiveness, they’d redistribute funds from richer to poorer nations and do something to tackle the chronic home bias that has been allowed to creep into the game. If anything, four day Tests will make there worse.
        “you only have to look at the empty seats”
        We’ve been softened up to think this by a stream of propaganda that Tests are poorly attended. Some countries (WI) and some specific grounds (the Gabba, Pallekelle in SL etc) have poor attendances but many don’t (the first three or four days of every England Test this summer sold out; the MCG, SCG and Adelaide are still well-attended; Christchurch sells out when a good team is playing; Newlands and the Wanderers are usually full in SA etc etc. One problem is that the B3 keep playing each other so the other teams are left with less attractive fixtures. Anyway, ticket ssales are only 10% of revenue – this is about TV money.
        I’m not against Tests evolving (D/N Tests and a well-designed Test Championship are fine by me) but this isn’t evolution, it’s regression. A quadruped doesn’t have a leg fall off and think, “wow, that’s progress”!

        • I mentioned Geoffrey as he is the only true advocate of traditional test match values still commentating. I find his commentary style irritating too, but his views on test cricket are informed.
          Listen to the podcast by Trescothic about test match attendances. He has played all over the world comparatively recently.
          The fact that 3 day tests were a long time ago is irrelevant, it still shows the game as an evolving entity.
          Nowhere in my brief note did I mention 4 day tests, which incidentally no one is proposing for the initial faze.
          The competition I was referring to was simply the process of giving each test match and ODI a purpose beyond that series, greater than the half baked present ranking system, so for the first time a bigger picture will emerge about the global state of the game at the top.
          To suggest a 4 day game exists to release more white ball game
          time, which I agree is where the money is, makes some sense, if you want to have more cash to distribute to the up and comings.
          i would rather see things try and fail than not be tried. Cricket is at a crossroads, if it is going to survive it must adapt to the prevailing wind, which involves the cash cow. Most sports these days are run by successful businessmen who know how to promote. I know this can make for homogenous entertainment, the Cheer Leader syndrome if you like, which, incidentally was tried and dropped in footie over here. Look at what Barry Hearne did to rescue boxing, darts and snooker from oblivion over here. You may not like some of the package, like me, but it worked, homogenous or not.

      • I lost all respect for Lord Boycott of Flat Earth the day he said Woakes was so slow that his old mum could play him……….just after the Sky speed gun had shown him at 88mph. ‘Ooh’s tha’ goin’ ta b’lieve lad? T’ greatest bat of all time or t’ ;aws of physics?’

    • Hi Simon. You could be right about all this, of course. I guess we’ll find out. But I think it all rests on how successful the new championship is. Obviously it all comes down to money. If it breathes some life into test cricket, and the coffers start filling up, they might not see the need to pursue the 4 day test experiment. If they’re getting good crowds on day 5, then it might change their perspective.

  • I’ll keep an open mind about the proposed competitions. See how it goes.

    I don’t want 4 day tests. From a selfish point of view, I enjoy watching Tests on TV and the more, the better. What would improve the attraction is stronger teams, better players. We’re missing Clive Lloyd’s Windies, Warne’s Aussies and Vaughan’s 2005 team. Anyway, with 4 days, captains are going to have to learn about follow ons and I’m not sure they remember how it works anymore.

    • I seem to remember a lot of criticism at the time of Lloyds Windies machine. A boring diet of fast bowling, with no subtleties, slow over rates and predictable results, with precious few day 5’s. There was also plenty of criticism of Warne’s Aussies, (I prefer to call them Waugh’s) for their high profile gamesmanship, sledging and slowing games down. As for Vaughan’s 2005 side, hardly a great outfit and had a lot of luck. If McGrath hadn’t injured himself before the Edgbaston test we would have lost that series and no one would be talking about them today. I believe the present Indian side is as good as any of those.

      • Did you ever actually watch the Windies bowlers? The likes of Marshall and Holding particularly had more subtlety and talent than any quickies before or since. If you had to pick one player to watch as an example to be followed by those starting out it would be Malcolm Marshall – except that ordinary mortals could never reach those heights. I would love to have seen the T20 clowns attempting a ramp shot off him.

        • If you read my little missive properly you’ll notice the criticism of the Windies was a general one, nothing to do with my opinion, which is if those bowlers had been English we would have been delighted. Holding, Marshall, Roberts, Garner and Ambrose were truly great bowlers and I did spend years watching them in test and county cricket. Lesser mortals like Sylvester Clarke, Wayne Daniel, Colin Croft and Courtney Walsh all contributed to the Windies appalling over rate, dipping to 10 overs an hour at times. Holding’s 30 yard run was over the top as he only used the last 10 to accelerate into delivery. He proved later in his career than he could be as effective taking 10 yards off it. Roger Harper, a fine batsman who bowled a bit was the only concession to variety.
          The subtleties I was referring to related more to this lack of variety. Lloyd and his crew took delight in unsettling batsmen with unrelenting bodyline pace. I cannot remember any of them having a slower ball in their armoury. Coupled with the deplorable ground keeping in the Caribbean, where underprepared pitches put players safety at real risk, it was not an edifying era for sportsmanship.

          • I must take issue about Holding. His long run was a simple consequence of his being a 47 sec 400m runner as a teenager (he would have been Olympic standard) and having the very long stride length that goes with being the best athlete ever to play test cricket. The shortened run came about largely due to knee injuries in his later years (which also affected his stride length) and it certainly did affect his pace (although it may have been more to do with being unwilling to hammer the lead leg rather than the run up).

            • I cannot accept his fullest run up was necessary to generate his pace. To me it was clearly a gamesmanship issue to both intimidate batsmen and give him more chance to recuperate between deliveries. He was incredibly slow in his walk back. A Holding at both ends would have produced an 8 over hour. This is clearly unacceptable.

  • I e seen many comments about how there will be more draws.. the fact test cricket has dropped in standards is because it’s batsmen are mentally and technically compromised. This means shorter games will suit them more a they can hit out and not worry about it.

    Bowlers won’t have to work as hard and so can slowly become more like white ball bowling machines.. purely there to be slapped about.

    It really is comical how we are destroying red ball Cricket. Amateur cricket is All but destroyed also

    • Sorry for this one, but just as a point of interest, below is a list of established English test batsmen from the 1970’s 80’s and 90’s whom no one would accuse of great technique, so nothing new there:
      Bob Barber, Barry Knight, Peter Parfitt, Keith Fletcher, Mike Denness, Brian Luckhurst, Graham Roope, Bob Woolmer, Mike Brearley, Peter Willey, Derek Randall, Graham Barlow, Mike Gatting, Chris Tavare, Bill Athey, Graham Fowler, Chris Broad, Robin Smith, Graham Hick, Mark Ramprakash, Craig White, John Crawley, Keith Fairbrother, Mark Butcher.
      A few of the above always displayed plenty of grit, notably; Gatting, Wiley, Smith and Tavare, but how many of the above are significantly better than the options we have today?

      • Another incident occurred to me concerning thr chronic lack of quality opening bats in this country. It was over 40 years ago against the Windies when we picked a couple of 40 year olds to combat the likes of Holding, Roberts and Wayne Daniel. Between them they hardly laid a bat on the ball. Close was hit repeatedly as he chested the deliberately bodyline deliveries away whilst the other poor sod, Edrich, suffered the indignity of having a fan run onto the pitch with an imitation bat a foot wide, which he presented to him amidst great hilarity, in the hope could hit something. So the present problem is not a new one.

        • You do seem to have an odd idea of bodyline. The Windies did not use bodyline, which involves a packed leg side catching field. What they did do was use the short ball to encourage batsmen to play away from their body and pads to the good length ball, resulting in edges.
          I agree there were some dodgy techniques in the past, although I am rather surprised at the inclusion of Bob Barber, who had an almost classical approach, and the omission of Amiss, who changed his technique (successfully) at least 3 times.
          On the Close/Edrich issue. The reason they were opening was idiocy by the selectors. Having ignored him for the first 4 tests they brought back Amiss for the 5th test and he hit a double ton. And, of course, the Blessed Geoffrey had gone awol for 3 years at that time in the 70s.

          • Bodyline has nothing to do with the field settings, that is optional. It is merely a deliberate attempt to bowl short at the body to restrict stroke play and intimidate. It is a negative tactic and The Windies used it on and off for years. I am not disputing the greatness of their best quickies, but they seemed to get carried away with their ability to frighten batsmen.
            I am a Warwickshire man and saw a lot of Barber, who scored freely in county cricket, but his habit of walking accross his stumps made him as vulnerable at test level as a Westley.
            That double ton by Amiss was a bit of a freak knock on a great batting track where he consistently diced with death through the leg slip region, a classic bodyline field setting. I never saw him bat like that before, a jackrabbit caught in the headlights, jumping around in the crease, not the elegant batsman with time to play. I am a huge Amiss fan and based a lot of my own batting on his example, but he was not a confident player against real pace, few are. Getting into line was an issue and he tended to fence outside off stump against short pitchers, making the Windies decision to concentrate on bodyline all the more strange.

  • Finally, finally, finally! It’s a decade too late but this has got to be the right move. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get cancelled. The one thing I would say is I really think the ‘final’ should be a three match series. Similar to American sports, you have several matches to decide the champion and it could become a real event, a “World Series” and that would also keep with Test cricketing tradition of deciding the winner over multiple matches – and more importantly, avoiding the catastrophe of a wash-out or a bore draw after two years (as well as a lifetime) of build up.

  • Welcome news which could invigorate Test Cricket provided the ICC don’t ruin this initiative by combining it with reducing Test Match duration from 5 days to 4 days

  • Great news about the test championship! but what really worries me is the introduction of 4-day tests.. I really hope this experiment of ICC fails so bad that they can never think of taking such a foolish step again!

  • Test cricket really does need reformatting like this. Not just for the hardcore fans but also for those who don’t follow it as closely. This can be something they can follow. Too many times have I been asked whats the point of test cricket!

    • The same question can be asked of white ball.. what’s the point ? Once you’ve seen one slog fest you’ve pretty much seen them all

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