ICC’s Proposed Test Cricket League – Is it the Panacea for all ills?
The debate around crazy scheduling, player burnout, and the pointlessness of continuing with a 5-day game in this age of instant gratification, has proceeded unchecked in the past couple of years.
Alongside this have been the allegations that the game is being run by the BCCI for their personal gain, with the connivance of the ECB and Cricket Australia. In effect, the “Big 3” are destroying the game and the health of players with the scheduling, and by denying opportunities to the marginal teams (read: teams that do not generate gate proceeds and advertising), the game is being done a huge disservice. And in any case, it is pointless playing so much Test Cricket, because it is becoming boring, and no one goes to watch it.
Well, if you start with the last argument, the fallacy is loud and clear for all to see.
There were 47 Test matches played in 2016, and only 7 of these were drawn. So 85% of all Test matches played over the course of the year resulted in a victory for one team or the other.
The least number of matches were played by Pakistan and Zimbabwe. Is that really surprising?
Pakistan is an unstable country at best, and no cricketer in the world wants to chance his life by touring her. Given the terrorist harbouring issues involved, it is not surprising that India wants nothing to do with her, much less have cricket tours. So, Pakistan not getting its fair share of matches, is unfortunate, but not unusual.
Zimbabwe cricket has been around for a fairly long time now, but again political and racial issues have ensured that standards stayed low. Whenever that’s the case, the economics of playing Zimbabwe, are hardly going to be compelling.
The West Indies has been plagued by infighting issues that have prevented the not inconsiderable talent from the isles being showcased at the highest form of the game. Instead, the Gayles and Bravos of the world have decided to flog their wares to the highest bidding T20 Leagues.
Can you really blame them?
Nevertheless, this week the ICC decided to act.
With the BCCI made headless by India’s Supreme Court, and an interim committee of one banker, one historian and an accountant (none of whom have more than a rudimentary knowledge of the game), joined by a former Women’s Cricket captain, in charge, the moment to strike was clearly there.
After all, when more than 60% of the game’s revenues come from India, the most sensible approach is to take India out of the power play.
So here’s the plan.
Under the Test plan, there would be a playoff every two years between the top two ranked Test teams, who would have earned points from each match and series they’d won.
Over that two year period, there would be one series played between each of the nine full-member nations – Australia, India, South Africa, West Indies, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, England and New Zealand.
This means Test teams may well play four series each year, with these series able to be as short as one Test, depending on what the teams involved wished.
If in a two-year cycle you played an opponent at home then in the next cycle you would face them on the road. Teams who refused to play a series against one of the other eight full member nations would miss out on points.
There also would be a place in the Test format, outside of this nine-team league, for three lower-ranked nations, likely to be Ireland, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan.
It was proposed that each of the main nine teams would play a Test series against at least one of those three nations during every cycle.
The devil is clearly in the details.
But some things are for sure.
The number of Test matches may come down, and you may free up more time in players schedules. But money is king. So if the ICC expects that this time will not be spent in the burgeoning T20 Leagues, of which there are already too many, then they are living in a fool’s paradise.
And in the meantime, you will take the crowd away from Test Cricket in the very countries where people are flocking back to it – India, Australia and England, just because they will either be starved of home team matches, or because the home team will be playing teams that are sorely out of their depth.
The ICC, in their attempt to level the playing field, may just have rung the death knell of Test Cricket just at the time where it was re-emerging into the mainstream format of the sport after decades of neglect.