It's not even begun yet – but ICC to axe Test Championship


Click to follow
The Independent Online

The World Test Championship, devised to rescue the longest, oldest and best form of the game from oblivion, is in jeopardy. Although the schedule has already been agreed for the inaugural tournament in England in 2013, it will almost certainly be postponed for at least four years.

There must now be concerns that the WTC will never take place after it became clear yesterday that broadcasters were reluctant to the point of refusal to screen it. The uncomfortable truth is that the Champions Trophy, the so-called mini-World Cup of limited-overs matches, is worth millions of pounds more in revenue.

Haroon Lorgat, the chief executive of the International Cricket Council, said after a quarterly board meeting in Dubai yesterday: "It would be unfortunate if the Test Championship is delayed to 2017 but the board needs to balance several objectives."

It was another bad day for the ICC as the supposed governing body, since it was forced to drop the Umpire Decision Review System as official policy. Nominally, DRS has been compulsory in all Test series for two years but India have regularly refused to use it.

Last-ditch attempts are likely to be made to save the WTC but ICC officials privately admit it is unlikely to proceed. For weeks there had been whispers that there was trouble with ESPN Star Sports, the rights holders to all global cricket events until 2015.

This was reflected in the ICC's terse statement after its meeting. It said: "The board confirmed their preference to host an ICC Test Championship in 2013 but recognised the significant commercial challenge in trying to replace the Champions Trophy. Without the support of ICC broadcast partner ESPN Star Sports, the financial implications on the members and the development of the game would be significant."

The ICC wanted to replace the 2013 Champions Trophy with the Test tournament because it was painfully aware that the old game needed reinvigorating, being watched to any great degree only in England. Lorgat has been especially bullish about it.

England agreed to stage the event, which is intended to feature the top four teams in the rankings. Although there was a feeling that the hosts could win the tournament, the England and Wales Cricket Board will not be entirely sorry about the cancellation. There is an Ashes series that summer and there is presumably a limit to the appetite for Test cricket even in England.

ESPN Star's stance unequivocally demonstrates that the one-day piper calls the tune. If the 2013 WTC is cancelled, the ICC intends to negotiate its next broadcasting agreement with it as part of the package. The worry is that no broadcaster will be interested.

In ditching the much-lauded DRS, the ICC hopes it will eventually win India round. Countries involved in bilateral series are still free to use it, although that is likely to apply to only the bigger nations.

It is a blow, but there was no other option without continuing to look foolish every time India cocked a snook. Somehow, it makes more pressing the independent review of the ICC's role being conducted by the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf.

He is due to report in February and said yesterday: "In cricket people recognise that they have to face the challenges and will be prepared to take the decisions that will allow them to function effectively." If so, all may be well.