World Test Championship 'in doubt'
The future of the World Test Championship has been thrown into doubt after it emerged that broadcasters and sponsors still hold grave reservations over the value of the event and the various parties organising it have failed to reach any agreement over the format.
The inaugural Test Championship, which the ICC hopes will become the showpiece event in the Test schedule, is due to be staged in the UK in 2017. But, with only four teams due to compete - the top four in the Test rankings as of December 31, 2016 - doubts remain over its global appeal.
The key concern of the sponsors and broadcasters is the identities of the competing teams. If any of the major draws cards - especially India or England - should fail to qualify, the attraction and value of the event would fall markedly. England's rapid descent in the world rankings has rendered this a real danger and could also result in some of the games being played in less-than-full stadiums.
The ICC's current broadcast deal ends in 2015. The last deal, agreed with ESPN Star Sports* in 2006, was worth around $1.1 billion and helped fund a huge increase in funding for Associate and Affiliate nations. Any decrease in the value of the next deal, a genuine possibility bearing in mind broadcasters' lukewarm response to the World Test Championship, will have serious consequences for the game at every level in most parts of the world.
Little progress has been made with the practicalities of the event, either. While a simple option would see the event consist of nothing more than two semi-finals and a final, there are doubts over what happens in the event of poor weather - hardly an unlikely event in the UK - and whether such a format provides enough cricket to capture the imagination of spectators and the interest of sponsors.
Any other format - such as round-robin - threatens to become too long, with at least three days rest required between games to ensure any sort of veracity in the event. The fact that day-night Test cricket remains an unrealised dream - and, in England at least, may always do so - also compromises the ability to reach a global audience.
As a result, the ICC is under increasing pressure to rethink its commitment to the Championship.
The World Test Championship was originally scheduled to be held for the first time in 2013, but was postponed due to the reservations of broadcasters. The ICC had hoped it would replace the Champions Trophy but was unable to reach an agreement and the 50-over tournament was staged in the UK, with some success, instead. It was subsequently confirmed that the Champions Trophy would not be played again.
While the ICC remains committed to hosting one showpiece event for each format of the game - World Twenty20, World Cup and Test Championship - the fact is that the Champions Trophy was popular with broadcasters, spectators and sponsors. Its revival cannot be ruled out.
*ESPN STAR Sports was a 50:50 joint venture between Walt Disney (ESPN, Inc.), the parent company of ESPNcricinfo, and News Corporation Limited (STAR)
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo