International Cricket Council set to introduce new nine-team Test schedule

Exclusive: Under the plans, the top nine Test nations in the world would each play three home and away series over a two-year cycle

Tim Wigmore
Tuesday 20 June 2017 14:46
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The ICC has long believed that Test cricket needs proper context and structure if it is to remain relevant
The ICC has long believed that Test cricket needs proper context and structure if it is to remain relevant

Test cricket could be revolutionised if the International Cricket Council’s proposal to create a new nine-team league structure for the Test game is passed at this week’s ICC annual conference in London.

The ICC has long believed that Test cricket needs proper context and structure if it is to remain relevant. After a string of recent proposals, including a two-divisional structure and conferences, have floundered, the ICC is cautiously optimistic that the new proposal will pass.

Under the plans, the top nine Test nations in the world would each play three home and away series over a two-year cycle. At the end of the cycle, the top two nations would meet in the World Test Championship final. The first final is likely to be played at Lord’s in 2021, with Eden Gardens and the Sydney Cricket Ground also viewed as suitable venues to host the final in the future.

Previously, it was envisaged that the nine team structure would entail all teams playing each other home or away over the two-year cycle. However, it is now accepted that the onerous modern schedule, with domestic T20 leagues competing with international cricket, will make a balanced structure impossible.

The reform is viewed as imperfect but far preferable to the status quo. It is believed that the extra context of matches will improve interest in matches. A great advantage of the new structure is that fans will have an extra reason to follow Tests involving other countries, as these will impact whether their country reaches the Test Championship final.

The ICC would try to make the competition as fair as possible by working to equalise each team’s schedule, to prevent some countries from having a far easier fixture list than others. Each series would have a certain amount of points attached to it - perhaps even as simple as three points for a win and one for a draw - allowing a league table to be formed.

The first final is likely to be played at Lord's in 2021

Pragmatically, then, countries could adjust their overall number of Test matches depending on the appetite for the format; some teams could play as few as 12 Test matches over the two-year cycle, while others like England would play considerably more.

The structure would deliberately leave the number of matches in each series at the discretion of the boards organising the series, with anything from two to five games possible. As a result, the Ashes would be unaffected and could continue to be played over five Test matches.

Afghanistan and Ireland, who are expected to be formally elevated to Test status on Thursday, would join Zimbabwe in being outside the nine-team structure. These three nations would predominantly play Tests against each other, topped-up by some one-off Tests against the top nine: for instance, Ireland would hope to play a home Test against countries who toured England. In the long-term - perhaps in five years or so - the ICC hope that the three nations could be elevated to the main Test league.

Meanwhile, the ICC also hopes to pass the proposed new 13-team one-day international league. This would commence in 2019, after the Cricket World Cup, and would involve all teams playing a three-match series home or away against each other over a three year cycle. The standings would be used to determine automatic World Cup qualification, and are another attempt to give international cricket greater context, to help it co-exist alongside thriving domestic T20 leagues.

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