• Governing body proposes promotion and relegation in Test cricket
• ICC wants to counter Tests’ loss of relevance and end fixture uncertainty
The International Cricket Council is considering a radical proposal that would see Test cricket split into two divisions with promotion and relegation between them, and places granted to two new nations.
In a bid to bolster the appeal of international cricket the ICC, led by its chief executive, David Richardson, is exploring a number of options that would provide greater context to all three formats of the game from 2019.
It is understood that the preferred idea within the governing body at present, in terms of Test cricket, is a plan to place seven nations into division one and five in division two, with promotion and relegation decided every two years.
Based on the current rankings, eighth-placed West Indies would slip into division two, which would still have full Test status, along with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. This second tier would then see the two best teams from the 2015-17 Intercontinental Cup, the first-class competition for associate nations, added to it, leaving Ireland, currently top of the table, poised to gain Test status.
In division one it is envisaged that all seven nations would play a series against each other, either home or away, over a two-year cycle. The leading team would win the Test championship, while the bottom side would face relegation.
There would be no exemptions to this, something originally proposed by Australia, England and India during the restructuring of the ICC in 2014. Relegation and promotion between division two and the Intercontinental Cup would also be in place, although whether this would be automatic or determined by play-offs is still being discussed.
Matches within this divisional structure would occupy no more than five months a year, leaving time for countries to schedule additional tours. A marquee series such as the Ashes, for example, could continue on its current cycle even if Australia or England were in different divisions.
This proposal is likely to be put to the ICC board at the annual conference in Edinburgh in June, and could come into effect after the 2019 World Cup.
Plans for one-day international and Twenty20 cricket are less advanced in terms of detail, although the ICC is keen to restructure both formats. One option being discussed for ODI cricket is to have two leagues of six, forming the basis of qualification for the World Cup; three leagues of four is also being considered.
In T20 cricket, the ICC hopes to introduce a system of regional qualifiers, from which all 105 members would have the opportunity to qualify for the World T20. The automatic qualification of each full member nation to world events would also end.
The proposals are designed to combat the loss of relevance of bilateral cricket, especially Tests, and concerns that matches lack clear consequences for victory and defeat, as well as the fixture uncertainty many countries face. The ICC has attempted to introduce a structure to the Test game since 2004, but there is now a feeling of renewed urgency.
Numerous Test series have been cancelled or shortened in recent years, with more lucrative ODI or T20 series in their place, and there are fears that the number of competitive Test teams is falling. The rise of domestic T20 cricket is another concern, and the ICC hopes that a new structure will help to manage the relationship between domestic and international cricket.
But convincing full members to vote for such reforms will be “a massive job”, said one senior source. The three Test nations who face relegation to division two might not be easily persuaded, while Australia, England and India, who have scheduled huge amounts of cricket against each other recently, might also be unwilling to relinquish such control over their fixture lists.
Funding is a further complication: the ICC envisages paying for all matches under the structure, preventing less glamorous fixtures being cancelled if boards are impoverished.
Whether the ICC is able to do so appears dependent on whether the Board of Control of Cricket for India agrees to return some of its ICC funding to the central pot, something advocated by Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president and ICC chairman.
That such an idea is being discussed at ICC level has been welcomed by the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations, the umbrella organisation for seven players’ unions. Its executive chairman, Tony Irish, believes the current schedule to be “random and confusing”. Irish said: “This proposal of divisions, leagues and qualification requirements across the various formats may well be part of the answer to introducing structure and context into bilateral international cricket.
“However the full solution lies in a fully researched new global structure for the entire game and can’t simply be an overlay on the existing disjointed bilateral playing schedule.”
As part of the continuing reviews, the ICC is also discussing whether to launch a bid to join the Olympics. Any bid for inclusion in the 2024 Games must be submitted to the International Olympic Committee by next year.
While England have recently reversed their opposition to cricket’s inclusion, India are yet to be convinced of the merits, with opposition to being affiliated with the Indian Olympic Committee understood to be one concern.
One alternative to the Olympics being discussed by the ICC is whether to revert back to the World T20 taking place every two years, rather than every four. The next World T20 after this year’s, in India, is due to take place in Australia in 2020.
A concern among senior figures in the ICC regarding Olympic inclusion is that a cricket event might feature as few as eight teams, making it unlikely that associate nations would qualify. It is also thought that the additional broadcasting rights from the World T20 being held every two years would be worth more than US$300m to the ICC over an eight-year cycle, which could help to fund the new structure and the development of the game.