England could net huge cash bonus

In a desperate attempt to save Test cricket, the cash prize for being the world's top team is to be vastly increased. If England can hang on to their No 1 ranking until the end of April they are likely to receive a bonus running into millions of dollars.

Nothing is certain yet – it never is where the International Cricket Council are concerned – but there is at last recognition that something has to be done. Audiences are falling almost everywhere and there appears to be genuine alarm at recent events.

The ICC's plan to stage a World Test Championship starting in 2013 was turned down by its members and was a significant factor in the resignation of its chief executive Haroon Lorgat. Respected and visionary, Lorgat had set much personal store in the project, which was eventually rejected by member countries afraid of disrupting a lucrative TV rights package based on one-day cricket.

Constant lip service has been paid to the need to revive Test cricket without anything being done. Although there have been some gripping Test matches recently – both in the series between South Africa and Australia with one win for each side and the thrilling draw between India and the West Indies with the scores level after five days – the audiences were pitifully low.

England's forthcoming series against Pakistan, for which they named a squad of 16 on Friday, appears to have all the ingredients to be desired in a high-class sporting contest. It has the world's top team against a rapidly-improving, highly talented underdog bent on revenge after the last meeting between them was besmirched by match-rigging allegations, which led to the jailing of three players.

Yet it is already known that the three matches, two in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi, will be watched by audiences measuring hundreds rather than thousands. That Dubai is, bizarrely, the headquarters of the ICC for tax purposes, will only enhance the embarrassment.

Hence the latest wizard scheme but, for England to retain their number one spot, they may need to win the Pakistan series. Despite their experience and expertise – 15 of the 16-man squad were also in Australia last winter – they are entering unknown territory in the UAE and both India and South Africa are snapping at their heels.

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