More interesting news from the ICC emerged yesterday. According to their chief exec Dave Richardson, test cricket could be split into two divisions as soon as 2019. It’s all part of a plan to sustain test cricket by adding extra context and relevancy to every series – something I personally think is overdue.
Richardson is proposing a top tier of seven teams with a second division of five. There would be a league cycle lasting two years. Every team would play each other home and away once during this cycle – so each country would play three series at home and three away – with each series consisting of at least three test matches.
At the end of each cycle the team that tops division one would be crowned champions, the bottom team would be relegated, and the division two winners would be promoted. There are also plans to increase the number of test teams, so there could well be relegation from division two as well in time (with the champion associate nation being promoted). This could be good news for the likes of Nepal as well as Afghanistan and Ireland.
Traditional contests like The Ashes would remain as five test series, but the winners would get the same amount of league points as they would for their other three test series against other countries. This seems like a good way to protect the integrity of The Ashes while introducing a broader structure to international cricket that builds towards some kind of climax.
The only potential problem I can see is if either England or Australia got relegated. Would the Ashes simply take a two-year hiatus (or longer!) until the two nations ended up in the same division again? Imagine the ignominy if the Ashes couldn’t take place because either Australia or ourselves – and let’s face it, it would probably be us (!) – were consigned to division two.
Although I’d personally prefer two leagues of six – which would certainly keep things interesting for mid-table teams (like England!) – I still think Richardson’s plan seems logical. Two years is about the right amount of time to hold people’s interest, and I have no problem with three tests series as it reduces the amount of dead-rubbers and doesn’t prolong one-sided contests. What’s more, if a series is being contested between two evenly matched sides, then every game will be crucial.
It’s no surprise that two divisions of six is proving a tough sell. The major nations must be worried sick about finding themselves in the lower tier. However, Richardson has indicated that there could be a promotion/relegation playoff between the sixth placed team in division one and the second placed team in division two. I think this is an intriguing option that would sustain interest in the competition until the very end. It would certainly keep the mid-table teams on their toes.
I imagine this new system will have plenty of opponents as well as advocates. My personal view is that it’s definitely worth trying – doing nothing simply isn’t an option – and two divisions is definitely preferable to introducing points based super series than create an overall winner for test, ODI and T20 contests combined.
It’s worth remembering that many people moaned when they introduced two divisions into the county championship. Traditionalists were up in arms. Although there have been some negative effects, with smaller counties falling further behind those with test venues, overall I think it has worked pretty well. The promotion and relegation race adds spice to the season, standards have generally improved, and there are less meaningless games between sides that have absolutely nothing to play for.
The danger, of course, is that sides like the West Indies might end up languishing in division two forevermore. If this happens, it would be a tragedy. However, is it really worse than seeing a substandard Windies team being humiliated by superior opposition every year? Maybe, just maybe, the threat of relegation could serve as a shot in the arm? Sometimes relegation can be a catalyst for teams to finally get their house in order.
Please tell me what you think of Richardson’s proposal in the comments section below. At this stage, with test cricket currently withering on the vine, I’m inclined to look at potential positives rather than negatives.