Australia could host winter Tests in 2017
Test cricket could return to far-northern Australia in 2017, with Bangladesh listed to visit for two Tests in August of that year, according to a draft of the new Future Tours Programme seen by ESPNcricinfo. If the draft FTP is signed off without any changes, Australia will also play longer Test campaigns against South Africa, with four Tests scheduled instead of three for each of the next three series.
The draft also has Australia listed to play India in either Tests or ODIs every season until the 2023 World Cup, while they would host at least one of India, England or South Africa every summer. That would prevent a repeat of the 2009-10 season, when the only tourists were West Indies and Pakistan, which led to a slump in public interest across the summer.
Other features of the draft include: seven Tests tentatively listed for the home summer of 2016-17; Australia and South Africa meeting for a Test or ODI series every season until 2021-22; and hosting duties for the World T20 in 2020-21. Notably, that World T20 is set to be followed immediately by four home Tests against South Africa, leaving little time for the players to get used to the change in formats.
Past FTP schedules have proven fluid, and series against Bangladesh have been among those postponed in the past. However, Australia were already due to visit Bangladesh for two Tests in October next year, which remains in the draft and should be their first Test series against Bangladesh since Jason Gillespie famously scored a double-century in Chittagong in 2006.
More notably, they have not hosted Bangladesh since 2003, and while they had been scheduled to play at home against Bangladesh in July 2018, that has been brought forward in the draft to August 2017. Darwin and Cairns were used for winter Test series in 2003 and 2004, but the venues were then shelved by Cricket Australia, with no Test cricket played there in the past decade.
However, if Australia were to host Tests in August, there would seem little choice but to consider such far-northern grounds again. The climate in southern Australia would be unsuitable and although Brisbane's weather might allow winter cricket - Australia A and India A played at Allan Border Field this week - the Gabba would be in use as an AFL venue at that time of year.
Seven Tests are listed for Australia's 2016-17 home summer, four against South Africa followed by three against Pakistan. However, the usual maximum in Australia is six Tests, and it is possible that in the final version of the FTP it will be trimmed back to six. In all, Australia are listed to play 100 Tests until the 2023 World Cup, including two in Zimbabwe in 2018, which were already in the FTP.
Also expected was the scheduling of Australia-India contests every season, due to the splitting of Test and one-day tours. The teams will meet for Tests and ODIs in Australia in 2014-15; ODIs in Australia in 2015-16; Tests in India in 2016-17; ODIs in India in 2017-18; Tests in Australia and ODIs in India in 2018-19; ODIs in Australia in 2019-20; T20s in Australia and Tests in India in 2020-21; ODIs in India in 2021-22; and ODIs in Australia in 2022-23.
In several cases, India's presence in Australia for ODIs should help to offset lower-drawing Test series, for example in 2015-16, when New Zealand and West Indies tour Australia for Tests, or in 2019-20, when Australia host Tests against Pakistan and West Indies. Either England or South Africa, also high-drawing teams in Australia, will tour if India do not.
Member nations have been told to sign their bilateral agreements by the next ICC Board meeting in October in order to firmly establish that FTP is both "binding and bankable".
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale