International cricket faces 'looming potential crisis'
Mike Brearley has warned of "a looming potential crisis" in international cricket as it struggles to compete with the growth of T20 leagues.
Brearley, in his final meeting as chairman of the MCC World Cricket Committee, warned that players "from countries lacking the funds to pay their top players well" will see those players "choose these domestic tournaments ahead of making themselves available for their countries."
Suggesting the absence of AB de Villiers from the South Africa side for the Test series against England was a "wake-up call" for international cricket and that it "symbolizes the problems and tensions facing it," Brearley stated the game "could soon reach a point of no return" and led calls for a "rethinking of the distribution model in international cricket."
The committee also urged the ICC to build on their "conceptual plans" for a Test Match Championship and suggested the possibility of a window for Test cricket in which no other formats would be authorised as a partial solution.
The game is facing "if not a crisis, a looming potential crisis", Brearley said. "And this crisis needs to be noticed and taken seriously.
"For international cricket to flourish, competitive levels need to be close and teams need to be able to field their best players. The committee is worried that with the spread of privately owned T20 leagues and the rapid increase in remuneration, more players from counties lacking the funds to pay their top players well will choose these domestic tournaments ahead of making themselves available for their countries
"The more this happens, the greater the threat to international cricket, not only to Test cricket, but also to ODI and T20s.
"The committee is aware of the gradual encroachment of domestic T20 leagues into cricket's schedule and the threat this poses to Test cricket. Whereas a few years ago ICC was willing to accept a window for the IPL, now the question is: do we need windows for Test cricket?"
Brendon McCullum, who also sits on the committee, agreed the absence of de Villiers was "another red-flag moment" for Test cricket and warned of a "tipping point" for the game as a whole.
"I don't see T20 leagues as the devil, by any stretch," McCullum said. "But it's how we continue to make sure Test cricket continues as an important game at the same time. That's where there's probably a tipping point: what's more important? These leagues or the international game?
"The actual health of the game is outstanding but the perception in some parts of the world is that the entertainment of Test cricket is diminishing. So we're trying to ensure there is context to every Test and we feel the Test Championship would bring that in and we encourage the ICC to continue to bring this to the table."
While the MCC World Cricket committee has no direct power, it does have influence. It has, over recent years, argued for a revision of the sport's Laws which have largely been incorporated into the ICC Playing Regulations, while it has also argued with some success for a limit to bat sizes and an adaption of the DRS protocol.
It is now urging the ICC to press on with plans to introduce a World Test League with a Championship Final every two years. While plans for such a tournament have been mooted for several years, the ICC has, to date, been able to realise them.
"What we are trying to encourage the ICC to do is actually follow through this plan," John Stephenson, the MCC Head of Cricket, said. "We've seen a couple of false starts with this. In 2013 there was supposed to be a World Test Championship and this year there was supposed to be one as well. We are hoping that in 2020/21, we'll see this come to fruition."
"The hope is games have more context," Brearley said. "We think this would encourage interest among players, spectators and broadcasters."
The committee concluded that "there must be efforts to reduce the earnings gap between playing Test cricket and gaining T20 contracts and between the earnings of Test cricketers in different countries."
"The committee believes that the current distribution model will, in unchanged, see the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer," the statement read.
"What the committee suggests may prove to be too idealistic. We are asking the richer countries to give up some funding in the long-term interest of cricket as a whole."
The Committee also renewed its calls for the inclusion of cricket in the Olympic Games and voiced their support for the ICC's recommendation that national governing bodies should be able to experiment with trials to allow a fully participating replacement following a concussion injury without jeopardising first-class status.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo