Now this is interesting. A report in the Guardian suggests that the ICC is getting serious about saving test cricket. But not everyone is going to like one of the main proposals – not least the West Indies.
According to Tim Wigmore the new ICC mandarins, who seem less self-interested than the bananas who preceded them, want to create a two division test championship. They’re proposing a top tier of seven nations with a second tier of five.
“But that makes twelve teams!” I hear you cry. Well that’s the trick. The ICC would give two associate nations test status. This is great news for Ireland, who are currently top of the Intercontinental Cup standings, and one of Holland, Scotland, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.
So how’s it all going to work? Apparently every test team would play its division rivals either home or away over a two-year period. But all these matches would take place within a 5-month window; therefore boards can schedule their own series outside of the test championship. This means the Ashes could still survive in its current form (in theory).
At the end of each two-year cycle, the team that finishes top of division one would be crowned test champions and the team in seventh spot would be relegated. Division two would work in a similar way. The top team would be promoted and the bottom team would make way for the Intercontinental Cup champions and lose its test status – although the affiliate nation might need to win a playoff first (this hasn’t been decided yet).
My initial reaction to this news is positive. It sounds like the ICC is really prepared to turn its back on Giles Clarke’s and N Shrinivasan’s sinister plan for big three dominance. When such a proposal was suggested before, India insisted they should be exempt from relegation. No such exemption will be made this time. What’s more, the new structure would give aspiring nations a clear structure to progress.
Thankfully the ICC still wants India to give back the extra revenue it grabbed during the Big Three putsch too. India aren’t going to like it, but the atmosphere seems to be changing. The ICC has also realised that more and more series between India, England and Australia is going to damage the game. The new structure would guarantee fixtures for poorer nations and provide some certainty moving forward.
Unfortunately, however, no plan is perfect. If two divisions were created tomorrow then the West Indies, as the eighth ranked nation, would be the side to drop into the bottom tier – alongside Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the two former affiliate nations. This seems a little harsh on a nation already struggling with politics and finances.
There’s an obvious solution to ease concerns though. The ICC are also proposing two divisions for ODIs – although this time they want six teams in each division. I don’t really understand this. Why the inconsistency? Why not have six teams in each division in both tests and ODIs? This would make every test match a lot more meaningful and ensure the Windies aren’t simply cut adrift.
Imagine if New Zealand, Sri Lanka and, dare I say it England, were battling to avoid that relegation spot at the end of each two year cycle. There would be huge morbid interest. What’s more, if a good team like Sri Lanka were playing in the second tier every cycle it would boost gate money, increase sponsorship, and create a compelling promotion battle.
A competitive second tier, containing two established test sides, would also help promoted teams to be competitive when they return. For example, if the West Indies can only play weaker nations for two years, they’d really struggle to adjust to life at the top table. Nobody wants to see perennial yoyo sides.
I imagine the likes of England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Zealand and even India are petrified of dropping into division two. That’s obviously why they’d prefer the comfort blanket of a seven team top test division. However, why should world cricket pander to this? If you’re relegated in any professional sport then you deserve what you get.
Surely the threat of relegation would be good for cricket? It would raise standards, increase competitiveness, encourage innovation and force the big boys to get their house in order. If they can’t manage this, there’s always an aspiration nation that might. Isn’t that what a meritocracy is all about?