Two Division Test Championship On The Cards?

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?

James Morgan


  • I think it was home OR away in the 2 year window, although I might be wrong.

    Certainly 2 divisions of 6 makes far more sense. 5 series in 24 months is just about do-able.

    • Yep just noticed as I was editing the piece. You’re fast off the mark today AB. I haven’t even publicised this piece yet. Was still playing around with it!

  • It all looks very messy at the moment, but the idea is good.
    Test cricket needs to stand out to survive, some may think it’s the big countries trying to shrink the game to suit itself, but sport can’t survive without the big players, It’s the same in any sport. That’s why we have the six nations every year, to generate interest and cash.

    Of course two divisions of six makes more sense, but I presume they are pitching at seven to try and make sure the elite test nations are never relegated, again some will shout this down, but it makes no sense to have England, Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan, New Zealand & Sri Lanka in a second division, no matter how (briefly) bad they get. Of course having 1 relegation spot means from time to time one will be in peril.

    As for a structure, who knows what will work – it may take a few tries to get it right.
    But cricket has to try. Test cricket needs some relevance in this fast paced world. If they/we don’t try to adapt then the administrators and fans will have let the game down and make no mistake, it will die.

  • I’m not convinced that Sri Lanka will ever reach the heights again they reached in the 2000s. Might have just been a unique group of players.

    • Sri Lanka & New Zealand are similar. Once in a generation they will get a quality side. We have to support them through the bad times

      • SL are a bit better than good once in a generation. They have a better international record over the last quarter of a century than England:

        And more WCs of course.

        What’s remarkable is how long they’ve gone before having a slump like the one they’re currently in.

        • Interesting stats.
          Of course that’s all cricket, not test matches.

          Would the two divisions come in for ODI’s ? Then it would get very messy.

        • Not at test matches though.

          During Murali’s career, Sri Lanka were a good test team. Since he retired, not so much – they’re ranked 7th over the past 5 years.

  • Too little too late I fear.

    I suggested this in a CricInfo comment about 10 years ago. Others said similar things.

    2 division of 6, with 1 up/1 down every 2 years. No series protected.

    4 day tests with 100 overs per day.

    Where attendances are likely to be low, the ICC should pay to fill the grounds. Without atmosphere the product isn’t good for TV.

    Do all of that and it might just become sustainable.

  • This idea finally brought into focus for me a view that the majority of past test series have been without any context – who’ll remember in a while who won a specific series?

    I hope they go with this or the 6/6 version – test cricket will at last get a meaningful edge, and in sport that mean losers (WI?) as well as winners (Ireland?)

    As our former colonials would say, bring it on!

  • The 2 divisions of 6 makes the most sense, but I can see that the turkeys won’t vote for Christmas and allow that to happen !

    Perhaps even more adventurous thinking and expanding the number of ‘affiliates’ to become Test nations and have 3 divisions of 5 – this way you’d only need to have 4 test series each 2 year period (2 home, 2 away) and you’d then have a ‘Premier’ division (the ‘elite’), a first division mixing experience with emerging talent, and then a 3rd division with those still in development but able to progress.

    Having a middle tier would maybe also take away the fear of relegation, as there’s likely to always be 3 of the current top 8 (although not necessarily forever) in that division – which should still allow for competitive and an attractive level of competition.

    • I think the fear of relegation stems from the loss of key marquee historic series, particularly the Ashes, rather than a lack of competitive opposition in general.

      I think 6 teams would be about right – I think something would have to go badly wrong for either England or Australia to fall out of the top 6 teams in the world anyway.

  • It does look a bit messy, most of all in allowing boards to schedule matches outside of the official division fixtures. But I suppose those would be like “friendly” international fixtures in football. You could end up with the Ashes being in this category, but I’m not sure that would matter greatly. I would prefer equal sized divisions. Whatever size, I can see that whoever gets placed in division 2 will want to argue against this.

    • No doubt they will do a half-hearted job and completely fuck it up.

      Its like they have a rule where they can only listen to intelligent advice 20% of the time, and the rest of the time they have to do the stupidest thing possible. Having decided, finally, to install a test championship, they’ve basically used up their quota of rational thought for the next 12 months.

  • I suspect the reason they’ve gone for a 7-5 split (when 6-6 is, as everyone’s said more rational) is that the proposal needs seven votes to be approved at the ICC board.

    Funding arrangements are going to be crucial. D2 Test cricket will need financial support or it will die.

    I’m surprised there isn’t a suggested Final between the top two to decide the champions. It would seem a fitting finale.

    I hope that in time two more associates might be added to D2 to even out the numbers. That could happen by lower sides demonstrating improvement (if one of them is the USA they’ll be fast-tracked quicker than a bullet train). It could also happen by the West Indies breaking into their constituent parts. Although I instinctively don’t like that idea, it’s not for me (based in England) to tell them what to do.

  • Quick point of pedantry, it’s Associate sides that would be in the running for the extra two slots in the lower division, not Affiliate sides – who are a good way down the pecking order.

    Also, with regard to the 7-5 split, a cynic might suggest it’s not unrelated to the number of Full Member votes the proposal would need for approval. And on the subject of votes, it might not do to get too excited by the proposal given that at the moment it seems to only have the tentative backing of the ICC, who don’t really have a great deal of say in their own decisions.

    • Yes you’re quite right. I should’ve said associate nations. I’ve had the word ‘affiliate’ on the brain today. Keep getting approached by 3rd parties asking TFT to join their affiliate programmes. It’s rarely a good offer.

      Pedants rule by the way :-)

  • my scepticism for this particular initiatve is that it could well kill test cricket, if it is not already dying a death in the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe for 3 and it certainly wouldn’t help New Zealand keep some of their top talent away from the clutches of the t20 leagues should they end up down there, which is possible. Bangladesh look like they’re improving as a test team but a move like this could stunt them. I can’t see where the money is going to come from to ensure that it is a worthwhile concept for the test nations who find themselves out of the top tier.

    • PK, on your last point I think the idea is that extra funding will come from holding the T20I WC every two years. That in turn would make it virtually impossible for the Olympics to fit into the cricket schedule (which is just what India and the ECB old guard want).

  • I like the noises currently coming out of the BCCI: the new chairman (Manohar?) seems to be a lot more interested in the future of international cricket than Srinivasan (who was, as the Indian Supreme Court pointed out, hopelessly compromised by owning an IPL team). I tend to agree that 6 and 6 would be better, and I think it’s more manageable too in terms of timescale. Would these be 3 test series, or just one offs, subject to weather etc? I’d prefer home and away games (think India and Australia) to get a truer measure, possibly with “test difference” mattering (so there would be an incentive to play for a draw in a losing position).

    • Anything that makes the draw something to play for rather than chastised as ‘boring’.. I’ve seen more boring one sided games than “bore draws”.. A lot of draws stem for batsmen fighting really hard and fielding sides having to actually work hard and think outside the box

      Kind of like the idea of 3 divisions myself but split the money reasonable equally (obviously you should get more for being higher up in test rankings than in ODI/t20 rankings to promote that format)

      Of course, I’d scrap odi’s as they don’t really have a function, just play 2020 and tests and then batsmen/bowlers can specialise but you can rewards the test guys far enter than 2020 ones. Currently 2020 pays more as we are noticing

  • I think it’s a step in the right direction.

    A suggestion I saw which I liked more was three divisions of 4/5 teams. That way playing each other team in a given year in a league table would be doable allowing for an annual award in each with promotions / relegations, keeping better pace with development of teams.

    By having two divisions it would allow for three different levels, hopefully resulting in greater competition. In time the more accessible third division could see new entrants and even a fourth division.

    Won’t happen no doubt, but I think it would work better.


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