Two-tier proposal shelved at ICC meeting SLC chief pushes for four-day Tests
THE International Cricket Council (ICC) has withdrawn the proposal for a two-tier structure in Test cricket at the meeting of its chief executives’ committee (CEC) in Dubai yesterday, despite six full members reportedly being in favour of it.
There was no vote at the meeting but the consensus was to take the proposal “off the table” for the moment.
“There was a significant compromise and it was subsequently decided to withdraw the two-tier proposal,” a chief executive who attended the meeting told ESPNcricinfo.
He said the BCCI, Sri Lanka Cricket, the BCB and Zimbabwe Cricket had opposed the proposal, which had found support from the boards of Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan and West Indies.
On Monday, the players’ global body FICA had revealed that 72 percent of players quizzed for the body’s annual survey were in favour of “the introduction of a divisional Test competition to add more meaning to each match”.
The FICA executive chairman Tony Irish had urged the ICC Board to carefully consider the new model.
According to the proposal, the two-tier system would comprise seven teams in the top tier and five in the bottom, with promotion and relegation between the two based on performance.
To begin, Afghanistan and Ireland, as the leading Associate teams, would join the three lowest-ranked Test playing nations in the bottom tier, with other Associates having a chance at promotion based on performance.
The two-day CEC meeting was not part of the quarterly meetings held each year by the ICC but a special meeting where Member Board representatives convened to discuss international cricket structures in all three formats.
The chief executives discussed alternative models to invigorate the health of Test and ODI cricket, and provide more context to fixtures, while taking into account the danger of excessive Twenty20 cricket.
One proposal was to bring back the World Test Championship, but many board representatives including strong members like BCCI were not in favour of it.
“They wanted a Test Championship. That cannot happen because there is not time enough for everybody to play everyone [in the current Future Tours Programme cycle],” a chief executive said.
Another proposal was for the top-two teams in the ICC rankings to have a play-off for the Test Championship.
It was decided that the chief executives would discuss that plan with their own boards before deliberating further.
The ICC statement following the meeting yesterday was vague.
The ICC chief executive David Richardson said “significant progress” had been made at the two-day workshop where chief executives had discussed how to improve the quality of bilateral cricket.
“Encouragingly there is an appetite from the 10 Full Members for more context around all three formats of the game and we have consensus on a range of areas,” Richardson said.
“This includes the details of ODI and T20 structures and principles around Test cricket schedules, which include the concept of a Test Champion play-off every two years, and the opportunity for more nations to be involved.”
Without saying the two-tier proposal was off the table, Richardson said any new model would be put in place only from 2019, when broadcast deals are renewed by the Full Members.
“There are some complexities, not least because of scheduling and existing structures, but we envisage the changes being implemented for 2019.
“Members will now revert to their boards to share the details of the proposed revised structures and principles.
‘‘Work will continue to develop a clear structure and position for each format over the coming months as the ICC collectively focuses on improving bilateral cricket for fans and players in the long run.” — ESPNCricinfo. WHILE expressing differing views on the ICC’s decision to withdraw the proposal for two-tier Test cricket, Full Member boards welcomed the discussions opened up at yesterday’s chief executives’ meeting on ways to sustain the longest format of the game.
Thilanga Sumathipala, the SLC president, called for boards to market Test cricket more vigorously, and suggested four-day Tests as a step towards increasing the excitement around the format.
“[Withdrawing the two-tier proposal is] a very wise decision as far as SLC is concerned,” Sumathipala said.
“It’s going to give us more time to revisit and to see how, while we are maintaining our top 10 Test-playing nations, we could allow emerging Test-playing nations to join, while making sure that the tournament effect is taking place.
‘‘We’re going forward together in this. I’m happy with the new line of thinking, and I’m happy we are not pursuing the seven-five two-tier system.”
Explaining SLC’s opposition to the two-tier system, Sumathipala spoke of how hard Sri Lanka had fought to achieve Test status.
“Test status was a hard-earned status for us,” he said. “We were ICC champions in 1979. We’ve played more than 100 years of cricket - Test status didn’t come to any of us overnight.
‘‘We gained it through sheer hard work. The game has a challenge to face, but we should look at the economic and commercial side of things.”
Sumathipala emphasised the need to engage and entertain fans, and suggested that four-day Tests were a better idea to enhance the appeal and commercial viability of the longest format.
“Our thinking is that we need more effort to sustain Test cricket in the decades to come,” he said. “We have to invest into the game. We have to bring some fanengagement programmes where we can keep interest going.
‘‘Sustainability is in the hands of the fans. They need to have entertainment in following the game.
“The floodlit, pink-ball Tests have been somewhat successful. We can improve from there.
‘‘We can play four-day cricket, starting on Thursday, which allows the games to come to a climax over the weekend, when people can watch.
‘‘Then after three days’ travel and rest, the players can start the next Test on a Thursday as well. They can play 95 or 100-over days. There’ll be more excitement. There will be interest and commercial viability. That’s what we believe.”
The BCCI has consistently opposed the two-tier proposal, and its president Anurag Thakur reiterated his view that splitting the game into two divisions would hurt smaller boards.
“I am thankful to the members of the ICC who understood our viewpoint and agreed to take this proposal off the table,” Thakur told PTI.
“As one of the key stakeholders in world cricket, BCCI would continue to have an inclusive approach and ensure that everyone’s interests and the growth of cricket isn’t compromised.
“We want to grow the game and take it to new pastures and will not allow any step which can shrink the popularity and development of the game.”
James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, had urged boards to look at the “big picture” of the two-tier proposal, and see it as a means to bring more structure and context to Test cricket.
While the proposal was shelved, Sutherland was confident the discussions initiated at the meeting would pave way for an “improved model” for bilateral cricket.
“Cricket Australia welcomes the progress made in discussions with other member countries in Dubai this week,” he said.
“The workshop provided a forum for all views to be heard and discussed - and for members to work together to build an improved model for bilateral cricket played between nations.
‘‘More important than anything, we are confident that the additional structure and context proposed for each of the three formats will significantly enhance cricket’s offering to fans across the globe.
“Our thoughts on the need for change are well known and we are optimistic that all member countries are open to meaningful improvements that will support an even more successful and sustainable future for international cricket.”
Nizamuddin Chowdhury, the BCB chief executive, has been one of the primary opponents of the two-tier system. He thanked the ICC for taking it off the table.
“We are delighted we could convince other members of the negative impact it would have on Bangladesh cricket,” Chowdhury said.
“I thank them for understanding our situation. I also want to thank the ICC management for organising this workshop.
‘‘The two-tier system is off the table, and we will now discuss the future structure of cricket in the coming days.”
ESPNcricinfo understands, meanwhile, that the PCB had been in support of the two-tier proposal, in a bid to add context to their bilateral agreements with various countries.
The board also believed the system would have given Pakistan increased opportunities to play competitive series against strong teams, and that this would have heightened interest in Test cricket back home.
With bilateral series against certain teams not attracting lucrative broadcast deals, the PCB had hoped a two-tier system would have helped raise the commercial profile of Test cricket. — ESPNCricinfo
FICA executive chairman Tony Irish
SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala