ICC aims to end away Test matches for weak nations

In an attempt to protect the content and quality of Test cricket the International Cricket Council, the game's governing body, may reduce the number of Test matches played by Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

In an attempt to protect the content and quality of Test cricket the International Cricket Council, the game's governing body, may reduce the number of Test matches played by Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Under the current structure, which is presently being reviewed by the ICC, the 10 Test-playing nations must play a minimum of two Tests against each of the other nine sides, both home and away, during a five-year period.

But this system will change to one where the eight strongest Test nations - Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies - continue to play each other under these rules, while Bangladesh and Zimbabwe only play home Test matches.

For this to take place seven of the ICC's 10 full member countries will need to vote for the change, and this is likely to happen. Finance, along with concerns over quality, will influence the decision of the "big eight" because as well as being the two weakest Test nations, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are the least lucrative to host.

This will be seen on Friday when England take on Zimbabwe in the opening match of the Champions Trophy at Edgbaston. The England and Wales Cricket Board, who have been organising and publicising this tournament for two years, would have been hoping for a sell-out yet have sold only 4,000 tickets at a ground which can hold 20,000.

These changes are far from radical but they do end speculation that the ICC was to split Test cricket into two tiers. They may also reduce the amount of cricket played by the top performers.

The new programme is unlikely to be introduced before 2006 - it took the ICC five years to get the current structure through.

The ICC have been more decisive on one issue: back-to-back Test matches. For some time captains and players have complained about itineraries where a new Test is organised to start only two days after the previous one has finished. The chief executives of the 10 Test nations have agreed future programmes will allow at least a three-day gap.

In England, however, this will not take effect until 2006 - the ECB have already begun selling tickets for next summer's Ashes series against Australia.

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