It Takes Two Divisions To Tango: Test Cricket’s Future

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.

James Morgan


  • Very much in favour – and the runner up versus next to bottom option makes sense, too.
    A similar system for limited overs and T20 would be immensely helpful in reducing the proliferation of meaningless contests, too.

    A thousand times better than the combined points thing, which is just ridiculous.

  • Same as that – 100% for trying at the very least. Sounds like a really positive development and a good way to perhaps re-invigorate interest in those nations where Test cricket is beginning to take a back seat – WI being the most obvious example but also perhaps the sub-continent and even SA.

  • It’s not perfect, but it’s better than what we’ve got and it’s worth a try.

    A couple of other things Richardson said – 1) he said he’d prefer three Test series but he was less adamant on this than I think you’ve made him sound 2) he also said he wanted a T20I WC in 2018 but that Star broadcasters would have to agree. The probable venue would be the UAE (he ruled out WI because of the time difference with India and SA are ruled out by themselves). This breech in the Big Three monopoly in hosting ICC tournaments is very welcome.

    The introduction of a league needs to be accompanied by some other reforms though. One danger is that we’ll get even more of a nuclear arms’ race of sides loading home conditions in their own favour. I’d like to see groundsmen contracted to the ICC to tackle this.Even more seriously, there’s the issue of the revenue-allocation agreed in 2014. No league or “context” is going to make repeated one-sided massacres exciting. Revenue must be shared more equitably. Worringly, new BCCI chairman Thakur is interviewed on Cricinfo today and sounds very lukewarm about undoing the 2014 financial arrangement.

  • It’s not the worst idea at all though it would be tricky to fit it in the seasons, ie would one English summer have just three tests and the next 6?
    For it to work there needs to be introduction of new test teams, hopefully Ireland and Afghanistan.
    A major benefit I see is that it would regulate the tours and prevents the same sides playing each other or not.

    There is one worry I have and that is that currently most teams win at home and lose away and therefore it is hard to gauge the true gap between nations and is slightly dependent on how many home games they play.

  • Its an interesting idea. I’m not convinced it will give test cricket more than a sharp jolt. Is it a sustainable idea for a long term future. Will constant 2nd tier cricket force a nation to give it up.
    How would a points system work, will away wins be worth more?

    More questions than answers for me, which is my normal reaction when Richardson speaks

  • Step in the right direction at least.

    Two divs of six would be better with 2/3 series per year which is a small work load (5 tests per series)

    More pts for an away win than a home win, each test should give ‘bonus’ pts. So just winning 3 games gives you the series (say 5 pts) bit each test can be worth 2pts to make every test matter.

  • I’d be concerned such a project could lead to some negative cricket. Teams playing for draws to protect what they’ve got. Also potentially seeing the same cluster of teams visiting and going years without seeing favourite players because their team is never in the same division as your team. Teams regularly in the second tier struggling to maintain interest. The smaller teams need their tours to England and Australia.

    • They’d probably be in a higher div in slap and tickle or 50 over biff cricket

  • Some random thoughts:

    Starting at 7 & 5 teams in the 2 divisions allows the addition of teams to Test ranks to bring it to say 7 & 7 (why would there need to be relegation from Div 2?) as well as possibly being easier to sell to the existing Test countries.

    Play-offs or grand finals in international or first class cricket are problematic because of the home ground pitch issue (while better in the past couple of years, there have been some very poor cricket wickets produced for Sheffield Shield finals). In any case, possibly 2 teams moving between divisions with only a small number of teams in them seems a lot (and very disruptive to future schedules).

    Speaking of which – how far in advance to schedules need to be made just from a logistical point of view? I assume it is practical to set or change a schedule on fairly short notice at the end of a 2 year cycle.

    If there was going to be a play-off, maybe that could be between the Div 1 bottom team and Div 2 top with relegation/promotion at stake. The same where do you play it and who wins if it’s a draw issues arise. Tempting to say “neutral venue” but where? “Neutral” in the sub-continent or UAE (when one of the teams is say WI and one Bangladesh)?

    Speaking of WI – will this give some impetus to the breakup of the WI such that say Jamaica and Barbados become Test playing countries and other regions are stuck on the fringes?

    • You make some good points John. One can only hope they think things through before any knee jerk changes. While the temptation to implement ‘any change’ is strong (and I find it rather intoxicating myself) it’s important that it’s change for the better & any negative effects are minimised. Maybe they’d toss for home advantage in the playoff rather than choosing a neutral venue that isn’t actually so neutral? But with the away side choosing whether to bat or bowl first.

  • Couple of fun facts courtesy of Andrew Nixon on Twitter:

    1) The first proposal for two divisions at the ICC was made in 1968.
    2) Canada were offered Full-Member status in the 1950s, but turned it down.

  • I’m against it actually. We sort of already gave a two tiered system with sides like England, Australia, India and SA playing a lot of tests against each other (4 and 5 at a time). Meanwhile sides like NZ and Sri Lanka seem to spend a lot of time playing series against each other, stuck as they are in the de facto second tier. But both sides do get from time to time to play the top sides , often with good results. A rigid barrier between the tiers could really kill test cricket among the lower sides

    • Darren Gough was saying similar on talksport today. He thinks it will get boring if you play the same 6 teams all the time. I get the argument but it’s boring to play one sided series too, plus a different nation would be promoted every two years (and it could be two sides promoted too) so we’d probably play all the major nations over a 4 year period anyway.

      • I wonder if Goughy has found the Sri Lankan series boring?
        It’s series like the one we’re currently playing that are demeaning test cricket and fuelling the fire for change I guess?

        My biggest issue at the moment is the lack of flexibility because the schedules are drawn up so far in advance. This is the 3rd series against SL in 5 years. I presume because its hard to attract teams for the early part of the summer.
        Yet whilst NZ have had this cracking side we’ve barely played them. Those 2 tests last year left me wanting more, but they aren’t due again.
        Pakistan who we haven’t played since 09 are here later this summer for 4 tests and then return in 2018 for two.

        I know you can’t just invite teams for a tour a couple a months down the line, but planning so far in advance (it was 6 years when the last FTP was drawn up) puts you in a straightjacket.

  • Just a quick thought that occurred to me: what about scheduling? If Sri Lanka are in division one, what are the effects of being given the ‘short straw’ of May/June tests? After all, there are away conditions and Away Conditions. If potential relegation is the result of being the ECB’s less attractive visitor, financially speaking, what is the solution? Do nothing? Compensation? Bangladesh playing the ‘marquee series’ in July/August? Minimum 6 tests squeezed into a short season?

    • There is already a lot of talk that the May tests are being ditched.
      There’s none next year or in 2019 (one day tournaments)
      And then we’ll be into the next broadcast deal.

      The scheduling this summer is bonkers. We’ve played 2 tests in the north in May competing with lots of football finals & England matches.
      We get to June, the thermometer rises. There is a weekend with nothing on bar the Derby and guess what, no international cricket.
      You have to wonder who plans these things, next weekend the country will be watching the opening of the European championships and sky will be trying to sell you a dead rubber vs Sri Lanka.

  • I suspect this is going to be one of those ideas, like Communism, that sounds great in theory but just doesn’t work in practice. The idea that you could get promotion from Division 2 and get to play against the big boys sounds great – but in practice, the smaller teams are going to spend a lot more time outside Division 1, and starved of opportunities to play big money-making series, than in it. And if West Indies (for example) have to spend 6 years (3 cycles) playing the likes of Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Ireland, I wonder if they might just decide that Test cricket isn’t worth the bother anymore.
    That said, with the Big Three so reluctant to play against the smaller nations, we have a de facto two-tier structure anyway – so maybe it can’t hurt to try.
    I’m desperately pessimistic about the future of Test cricket – I think it will survive me, but not by much. Manohar’s suggestion to give back 6% of India’s revenue is a good one but it doesn’t go far enough. England and Australia need to be chipping in more too, so that we have a genuine revenue-sharing model such as exists in most US sports. And if that means the ICC stepping in and taking over some incompetent national boards in return then so be it. Serious investment is needed in the smaller nations and the Associates, regardless of what structure Test cricket arrives at.

    • Hi Kev, I think you may be right here. We may have to face the fact that test cricket has peaked and its now a case of keeping what we’ve got interested in it.
      T20 is here, we’ve created a monster. Its easier for mediocre players to be good at it, for the boards to sell it to families and TV. That’s where the growth is, if we had 10-15 nations that are good at it and playing regular is that a good thing.

      Let’s be honest, there’s only ever been a core of 5-6 nations that were truly interested in test/first class cricket anyway. We had the golden age in the 90’s when the WI were firing and SA were readmitted but either side of that it’s only ever been niche.
      We’ve tried to grow it into Sri Lanka/Bangladesh & Zimbabwe but its not been sustained.

      • Sadly you’re probably right. White ball cricket will rule the roost which has obvious effects on skill levels, techniques and as you say, less skilled players can prosper much easier

        What will be interesting though, can a diet of slogging actually keep people interested after the initial few years hit

        • It won’t keep me interested, I know that. I’ll take baseball over T20 cricket, every day and twice on Sunday.
          I applaud Dave Richardson for trying this idea, even if I am a pessimist about whether it will work. Something, clearly, needs to be tried.

      • What’s the evidence that interest in Test cricket hasn’t been sustained in SL? Has there really been much effort to grow Test cricket in Bangladesh? Zimbabwe is a special case.

        The fate of Test cricket in D2 is my major concern with this plan. Sides will have to play a decent number of games if they are to stand a chance of winning promotion play-offs against D1 teams or of staying in D1 when they get there. D2 Tests are unlikely to be profitable so they will need commitment from the ICC to subsidise them from the profitable parts of the game. Recent behaviour at the ICC makes it difficulty to be confident that commitment will be there.

  • The format of 1.5 x 3 match home series every two years does allow space for a 3 match series against a team in the other division. Which could be used to provide fixtures for say West Indies (if they end up outside Div 1) against the “big three” (if they all stay up). However I don’t see the big 3 playing that way.
    Alternatively a years gap between each competition would allow similar serious.


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