Intercontinental Cup to become truly global
Under a new format agreed at the recent meeting of the ICC Development Committee, the competition will become an eight-team tournament and in 2006 those teams will be divided into two groups with the winners of each group contesting a final. Then in 2007 and 2008 it will be conducted over a full round-robin format with all eight sides playing each other over those two years with the likelihood of a final between the top two countries. At present 12 sides compete in four greional groups of three. And as soon as it is deemed affordable, appropriate and feasible, it is planned to add a second division, bringing with it the opportunity for promotion and relegation.
In a further alteration to the existing set-up, all matches will change from three to four days' duration from 2006. That will mean that each side plays a minimum of three four-day matches in the next tournament and seven four-day matches over the 2007-08 period. This compares to a minimum of just two three-day matches a year under the existing structure.
Commenting on the new format, Mathew Kennedy, the ICC global development manager, said: "This new format means we can truly have the best playing the best for the right to be called the top Associate side at first-class level. The existing regional system was an excellent starting point towards establishing the Intercontinental Cup as a major international competition but it did have its limitations. With only one team from each of the four regions qualifying for the semi-finals it meant it was not always possible to ensure the four strongest sides reached that knock-out stage.
"This format removes that issue and also gives each side the chance to play more first-class matches. And although the playing conditions for the 2006 tournament are yet to be finalised, the switch to four-day matches also means we now have the option to dispense with the current complex bonus points system as the extra time gives us a much better chance to get positive results."
The groups for the 2006 tournament have been determined using a combination of current multi-day and one-day rankings together with cost-effective scheduling. Nepal, rated ninth by this method, have been given the chance to play off for a place in the 2006 competition because they are the only side rated inside the top eight in multi-day cricket that are not in the overall top eight because of their one-day form.
Nepal's opponents will be Namibia, even though they are ranked seventh, one above the Netherlands, because guaranteed participation in the competition was felt to be vital for the Dutch in their build up to the World Cup in 2007. The date for the play-off match is still to be confirmed, although it will take place in Namibia. The schedule for the tournament is currently being developed but the first matches are likely to be played in March 2006.
The two groups for the 2006 Intercontinental Cup are as follows:
Ireland, Scotland, United Arab Emirates, Namibia or Nepal
Bermuda, Canada, Kenya, Netherlands