It's easy to forget in the middle of the Ashes that world cricket is not in great shape. Those of you who listened to Test Match Special's coverage from Headingley may have heard me highlight some issues facing cricket.
There's too much cricket, too much of it is meaningless, and there are just too many different formats. Christopher Martin-Jenkins challenged me, on air, to come up with solutions, so I've been speaking to all kinds of people since then and added their input to my own thoughts, and I've come up with some solutions.
I'm not suggesting this is the panacea, nor do I expect everyone to agree, but I hope this stimulates debate on the future of our great game. Ultimately the ICC, and the other cricketing powers, need to reshape the game to ensure its place in the modern sporting and entertainment landscape. Of course, earlier this week I was appointed to the board of Cricket Australia - I wish to stress these are my personal views, not CA's. They may not be yours either – but let's get the debate started.
Problem 1: Tests deserve a bigger audience
My solution: Create a Test cricket world championship
If Test cricket is to be the number-one form of the game, the public, players and financial backers around the world must be engaged. Grounds around the world are regularly almost empty, and not just for lesser internationals – the spectator figures when the two top teams in world cricket played each other, in Australia's tour of South Africa, were really poor.
ICC's Future Tours Program just doesn't work. It creates too many meaningless matches, like England playing the West Indies at home when they've just toured the Caribbean.
I propose the establishment of a World Series, or a 'World Test Championship' if you like, which would be on a rolling calendar with finals every two years.
At the core would be the iconic series – the Ashes and India v Pakistan. They should stay as five-match series. Aside from those ties, teams are pooled in two groups, with everyone playing eachother and scoring points for wins, draws and series wins, and picking up bonus points for stand-out batting and bowling perfomances.
The leading two in each group would progress to semi-finals and a final, the other would enter a rankings play-off system. I've put a calendar together – you can see it online at www.independent.co.uk/cricket so you can take a look. It works.
This way, every game means something – even the dead rubber at the end of a series between two lesser sides. Every test fits into a bigger picture that adds up to a championship. It gives players something to aim for, fans a format they can follow, and commercial stakeholders with something that's compact and exciting.
By changing Test cricket into something more relevant and therefore more marketable, additional revenue is generated. More revenue in the sport is good for everyone, including players and the ability of the game to develop.
Problem 2: Some Tests are just mismatches
My solution: Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have to drop out of the top flight
When a team like Australia play a team like Bangladesh in a Test series, you've got problems. It can't be fun for the underdogs and it's no challenge for the favourites. Just as importantly, it's not a good spectacle. Discounting matches between the pair, Zimbabwe have won four of 75 Tests, the last in 2001. Bangladesh have won two from a total 55 played – and both of them were month against a severely weakened West Indies team with players strike. So in my Test World Championship, I've left them out. It won't be popular, but I believe it's necessary.
Problem 3: The conflicts between the IPL and traditional cricket can't go on
My solution: Embrace the new wave
Franchise Cricket, as played in the Indian Premier League, has revolutionised the global landscape of cricket. Speaking as a player, there is nothing more exciting and challenging than the opportunity to play amongst the best players in the world. The T20 format is high-impact, colourful and attractive. I truly believe that the formula works, and that IPL, the world's premier franchise competition, is here to stay.
The IPL that has brought the sport, which has often responded conservatively to such developments, to a tipping point. The question is, how does the rest of the world of cricket work with the competition to the greater benefit of everyone in the game?
The main point of conflict between the IPL and the established game is in scheduling, particularly the subsequent clash of players' contracts. This can be avoided in the future by creating a two-month window each year – I'd hold it in March and April - when other forms of the game take a back seat – no Tests, no World Cup cricket and so on.
We need to do this. The IPL has the ability to generate international fan bases in the same way as achieved by the English football's Premier League. I believe some IPL matches should go on the road each year and be played in other countries, to make it a global competition. The sooner the world of cricket embraces the IPL, the sooner everyone can find ways to benefit from its massive potential.
Problem 4: Where will all the crowds watch the game?
My solution: We need to rethink where we play the top matches
To maximise audiences, cricket needs to upgrade its venue-hosting criteria. The issue's already in play. Just look at this Ashes, starting in Cardiff – you don't always have to play games in the accepted, traditional grounds. Historical factors, such as the MCG always staging the Boxing Day Test, should be less of a factor than aspects such as crowd capacity, the quality of the playing area and pitch facilities (to avoid incidents such as the abandoned Test in Antigua, and the day lost to rain while the sun shined at Edgbaston). Why not stage cricket indoors, if the arena is big enough?
There is no reason why we could not play in an indoor IPL game in the Millennium Dome, now known as the O2 Arena, or elsewhere - including the United States.
Problem 5: There are too many confusing one-day competitions
My solution: Scrap the Champions Trophy for starters
We're about to play seven one-day games against Australia – that's right, seven, after the battle for the Ashes has been settled. Will everyone be glued to each and every one of those? It's too much. Surely five is enough in any series.
Equally, there are too many confusing one-day trophies. World cups are the key shop windows for world cricket. They provide dramatic entertainment within a global 'event' inclusive of smaller nations, all factors which help promote cricket to new markets. They are also a significant revenue-generators.
Playing the World Twenty20 every other year is too much. And why have the Champions Trophy (a 50-over tournament) when you've already got a 50-over World Cup?
There are strong lessons to be learned from the success achieved in other sports, such as the quadrennial cycle of football World Cup and UEFA European Championships.
Cricket should follow this with a similar cycle of T20 World Cup and ODI World Cup. To maximize coverage these should be played in odd-numbered years – football major competitions, and the Olympics, are in even-numbered years. The Champions Trophy should be scrapped.
In the alternate years qualifying competitions can be staged. This meets the challenge for our sport to create meaningful competition for developing nations in regional pools.
Problem 6: How do we keep track of it all?
The solution: Let's all agree a global calendar
Football fans instinctively know if they're in a World Cup year, or Euro Champs year. They know when seasons start when trophies are decided, give or take. Not so in cricket. A universal calendar is fundamental to all the above solutions. Once this is in place, competitions for each of the different formats of the game can be settled upon. Fans, broadcasters, sponsors, players – everyone will know where they stand. Again – I've worked out a calendar that I'm putting on the table to spark the debate. Like all these ideas, people will disagree, some will see where I'm going. So get responding and let me know what you think.