WTC is alive and kicking, it seems, but for how long?
With the rise of more interesting formats, it is facing a crisis
● The setting was as unreasonably auspicious as it could be. On the far side of the road the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque — its 82 domes gleaming white in the black desert night, the almost 40-million Swarovski crystals in its chandeliers twinkling to no-one in particular, the more than two-billion handtied knots of its carpet at last untrod — lay silent and vast.
On our side of the road the Ritz Carlton Hotel paled in opulence even though it seemed to stretch across time zones.
If, as you walked the marble floors, you followed the signs posted every couple of hundred metres — the hotel has more than 2 000 square metres of “event space” and you could just about make out in the distance, on a large flag outside the door of one of many conference rooms, the International Cricket Council (ICC) logo.
There, a hundred or so people were gathered in their finery to be wined and dined. Many of them, on hearing this week’s news about the future of test cricket, might have checked their glassware cupboards.
Each had been presented that night in Abu Dhabi with a smart black box that contained two whisky tumblers.
“ICC World Test Championship,” (WTC) had been sandblasted into the base of each. It was October 12, 2013, when the branding for that event was launched.
Dave Richardson, then and still the ICC’s chief executive, spoke ardently about the need for context in cricket’s oldest, grandest but steadily less relevant format, and how the WTC — which was to have started in 2017 — would lend it exactly that.
Those tumblers have become party pieces, rinsed out and poured into for house guests to have a laugh about the suits’ inability to organise a piss-up in a brewery, even though they managed quite fine in an expensive hotel that evening.
Not quite five months later, after a round of ICC meetings, it was left to Richardson to explain why the board had vetoed the idea.
“We were always struggling to find a format for the WTC that could be completed in a relatively short space of time, and that would not lead to more damage than good,” he said.
“In the absence of having nothing in place the WTC was quite good for cricket. However, if you look at it the way the board has looked at it now, we’ve got the rankings system which is becoming more and more prominent.”
The bigger picture at the time was that the big three were in the throes of formalising their grip on cricket, and decisions at the fateful ICC meeting had been taken without a vote because, as then ICC president Alan Isaac said, “the content of the resolutions and some of the detail behind them” were still being discussed. Nonetheless it had been decided to scrap the WTC.
Now that the big three have been dismantled as an axis of power — though their authority remains as real as ever — the WTC is again alive and kicking. At least it will be from July next year until the end of April 2021.
“Bringing context to bilateral cricket is not a new challenge, but with the release of this FTP [Future Tours Programme], our members have found a genuine solution that gives fans around the world the chance to engage regularly with international cricket that has meaning and the possibility of a global title at the end,” Richardson said in a release on Wednesday.
A request for him to elaborate on what has given the ICC confidence that the plan will survive this time was politely declined by the organisation’s media office: “At the moment we’re not saying anything further re the WTC. We will do at some stage, though.”
Who could blame the people who have to jump through the hoops, as set by the suits, their reticence to say too much? As they’ve discovered, they don’t know when and where the hoops will be moved.
For now let’s be quietly thankful that something is being done about cricket being eaten by its T20 self.
We were always struggling to find a format for the WTC Dave Richardson
ICC chief executive
Security surrounds Lewis Hamilton as he signs autographs for fans in the pit lane ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard.
ICC boss Dave Richardson thinks test cricket will survive its challenges.