WTC is alive and kick­ing, it seems, but for how long?

With the rise of more in­ter­est­ing for­mats, it is fac­ing a cri­sis

Sunday Times - - Sport | Cricket/Rugby - By TELFORD VICE

● 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

Pic­ture: Getty Images

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.

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