Rob Steen
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Sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

Two tier or not two tier?

The proposed FTP may seem unjust to some teams but the likes of Bangladesh won't have it worse than they already do; and maybe a two-tier structure is closer than we think

Rob Steen

June 29, 2011

Comments: 48 | Text size: A | A

Shakib Al Hasan eventually prised Ian Bell from the crease, but his celebrations were muted, England v Bangladesh, 2nd npower Test, Old Trafford, June 5, 2010
Bangladesh play about five Tests a year now and that's roughly as many as they will under the new FTP © AFP

You're too young to be old
You don't need to be told
You want to see things as they are
You know exactly what I do
- Jim Morrison

James Douglas Morrison had plenty to rebel against: admiral father, nomadic American childhood in the archly conservative fifties, Vietnam; police massing at gigs, ready to pounce should he so much as scratch his crotch. No wonder he lived so hard and died, mysteriously and horribly early, 40 years ago next week, albeit not before articulating better than most what it means to be young.

Due in some measure to the songs he wrote for the Doors, dissing elders and alleged betters became both a rite of passage and an inalienable right. To respect without question is to betray centuries of hard-won gains. And because sport taps so expertly into our inner teenager, lauding administrators also feels like treachery, not least because, as with all authorities, we reckon we could do their job with eyes shut, one arm tied behind our back and brain in second gear. It is therefore with considerable queasiness that this column comes not to bury but praise the International Cricket Council.

Not that the ritual arm-wrestling in Hong Kong has been entirely howler-free. Banning runners will rob the game of compassion and mirth, and while the BCCI's aversion to Hawk-Eye may make some sense in terms of its imperfect prescience, its military clientele don't seem nearly so fussy. Besides, since when was the Decision Review System about perfection? The upshot, a perpetuation of multiple playing conditions, is in no one's interests bar those who insist on it. No, this allergic reaction makes far more sense as muscle-flexing in the wake of a significant U-turn.

The bottom line, nonetheless, is stacked heavily in favour of the credit side of the ledger, notably making the modified (but far from toothless) DRS mandatory in all Tests and ODIs, and in an equally sudden U-turn, a World Cup that will not, after all, be a private party for the haves. The latter may have been a quid pro quo, allowing the rotation policy for the ICC presidency to be scrapped, but the price feels right. It's not as if that particular throne is a licence to do much more than deliver the occasional rant.

For the lesser lights, however, this crumb of comfort was counter-balanced, even outweighed, by the draft Future Tours Programme, according to which Bangladesh will play 42 Tests in eight years (we can be sure there is a fairly good reason why the FTP has to cover such a protracted span, and pretty much certain it has something, if not everything, to do with the next TV contracts). Regrettably pragmatic as this is, history suggests Shakib al Hasan and Co haven't been treated all that shabbily.

Since 1928, when West Indies became the fourth Test "nation", each new entrant has been eased in - bar Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Over their first 10 years, West Indies averaged 1.9 Tests per annum, New Zealand 1.4, India 1.2, Pakistan 3.5, Sri Lanka 3.6; for the newest boys, the respective figures were 5.9 and 6.1. Indeed, the first four of those countries all endured at least two Test-free years: West Indies and New Zealand five, India four, and Pakistan two. No subsequent incomer has had even one.

The expansion of the field and the evolution of air travel accelerated and multiplied the fixture options, but now Bangladesh are beginning to feel the pinch as the schedule becomes ever more congested. (A window for the IPL is wise but for the Champions League? How long before Cricket Australia engineers similar preferential treatment for the game's worst-monikered event, the Big Bash League?). Zimbabwe had 14 Tests in their first four years, then averaged 7.5 per annum from years five to 10; for Bangladesh, the mean was a smidgen under seven in their first half-decade, 5.4 in the second. Since when things have deteriorated - seven Tests in 2010 and a pitiful three in 2009, with only five inked in for 2011. The new FTP should at least ensure the decline does not continue.

Not that this excuses for a nanosecond India's continued reluctance to invite Bangladesh for even a solitary Test. The same goes for England, who have been far more encouraging to newcomers in the past but have no room for Bangladesh this side of 2020, and were similarly guilty of disdain for Sri Lanka, consenting only to one-off Tests from 1982 until 2000, though the Lankans did enjoy four trips to Lord's during that span. Growth is imperative, stasis self-defeating, but trying to suppress the suspicion that the ECB and the BCCI are both putting profits before the greater good isn't worth the bother. Yet in the long run, surely even someone with a limited grasp of sporting economics would conclude that the more competitive opponents there are, the healthier the game will be.

The difficulty with Tests - as opposed to soccer matches, to cite the most obvious example - is that they are played primarily in the mind; fitness, technique, speed and strength can only get you so far. New Zealand held Italy, the holders, to a draw at last year's FIFA World Cup; it's easier to envisage the Beatles reforming with Lady Gaga and Madonna subbing for John Lennon and George Harrison than Ireland resisting South Africa for three days, much less five. The question is whether the inexperienced learn more from defeat than success. Regrettably the big boys seem far too short-termist to tolerate the former. Spectators and viewers are apparently no different.

We all know where this could be heading. Next stop, a two-tier structure, with Ireland and possibly the Dutch drafted in to keep Bangladesh, New Zealand, West Indies and Zimbabwe company? Such is the surfeit of matches that serve solely to titillate sadomasochists, it is an idea whose time has probably come.

Growth is imperative, stasis self-defeating, but trying to suppress the suspicion that the ECB and the BCCI are both putting profits before the greater good isn't worth the bother

The counter-argument does not lack substance: the balance of on-field power is more evenly spread than at any time since Charlie Bannerman flogged England's finest in 1877. From then until 1965, the duel for the unofficial crown was an Anglo-Australian monopoly; from 1979 to 2009, West Indies and Australia took turns in the dictator's seat; right now, in terms of talent if not consistent application, the top six sides in the Test rankings all have the beating of one other on any given day, venue permitting. The West Indies' two most recent wins, moreover, came against England and Pakistan, and New Zealand gave India a decent scrap last year.

In terms of both cricketing realpolitik and the development of the Test championship, such a split could only mean conferring Test status on all matches in the lower tier. There is a case for saying this might - to lapse into marketing-speak - dilute the brand. Imagine Kevin O'Brien hitting 401 for Ireland against Holland, or Ryan ten Doeschate grabbing all 20 against Zimbabwe. Would such feats be diminished? Would the stattos be obliged to keep separate records? 1) Not much and 2) So what? Did Len Hutton's 364 relinquish any of its aura because Australia were down to two-and-a-half fit bowlers?

This brave-ish new world would not only broaden Test cricket's narrow constituency, and give genuine hope to Afghanistan and Nepal, it would facilitate a playoff format whereby, in order to reach the quarter-finals (three fixtures doth not a tournament make), the bottom two sides from upstairs would first have to see off the challenge of the top two from downstairs. Future, thy name is fluidity.

WHICH BRINGS US TO THE FINE PRINT. Amid the welter of recommendations from the chief executives (prompted by the ICC's sagacious cricket committee) came another ray of light even someone with a PhD in optimism (i.e. your correspondent) didn't see coming - that national boards should raise the number of overs available to a bowler in domestic one-dayers. The limited-overs lash is biased enough in favour of the pie-smiters without this grotesquely unjust limitation, and any corrective is worthy of a heartfelt "yippee", perhaps even an unbridled "Cool!". Followed by a wholly ungracious "And about bloody time!"

Quite why bowlers - and captains - have been handicapped for the past half-century has long been a source of bafflement. Originally the priority was to boost gates by hoisting scoring rates on dodgy surfaces, but that mountain was scaled once fielding circles and chief executives' pitches became de rigeur.

Bowlers are second-class citizens; always have been, always will be. Imagine asking Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir to retire after 20 overs so MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh can have a go. Or demanding that Virender Sehwag bow out on 200 so Rohit Sharma can face a few. So why should Dale Steyn and Wayne Parnell be content with sharing 20 overs, or Graeme Swann have to settle for 3 for 33 instead of 6 for 66? How many momentums have been lost because Ricky Ponting had to keep a couple of overs from Shane Warne up his sleeve? How many games have been lost because Warne or Wasim Akram or Daniel Vettori lacked sufficient balls (and I mean that most respectfully, gentlemen)?

So no, much as any improvement would be enormously appreciated, raising the allocation to 12 overs, or even 15, won't satisfy this customer. If we're happy to let the batters bat until they're out, why can't the bowlers bowl until they're fagged out?

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

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Posted by KP_84 on (July 1, 2011, 1:50 GMT)

I disagree with the argument in favour of removing the ten over limit on bolwers in ODIs. It's called limited overs cricket; how can you not have a limit on the number of overs? There's enough fast bowlers going down with injuries due to work load at the moment; having them bowl even more overs would only make matters worse. Swannie might take 6-66 in one game, but then he might need should surgery and be out for the next four months. As a fan, you want to see the best players play.

Posted by Swampy5 on (June 30, 2011, 7:18 GMT)

@McGorium, consider the last 30 years of Ashes - apart from '05 and '09, usually one team has been quite inferior to the other and the series one-sided, at times painfully so. Yet the Ashes is still relevant and highly anticipated not because its consistently competitive, but because a shared history, culture and tradition provide a narrative to the contest. The key to relevance is narrative, and to sustain cricket beyond the 'big 4' nations, the ICC need to find a narrative for test cricket - the best being a world test championship providing motivation and purpose to all nations, not just the big 4.The proposed FTP preserves the interests of the big nations with their 'big' series, but does nothing to help motivate the smaller ones or provide some relevance to their test program. It's disappointing, but not surprising, at a time when something creative is required to give test cricket relevance all throughout the world, not just the big nations

Posted by RussDegnan on (June 30, 2011, 6:19 GMT)

@McGorium, I never claimed it was a necessary condition, merely a method to build interest in the absence of anything else - one that is a mainstay in other sports. And I agree, relevance can be built through tours. But if we want to have games between strong and weak teams, and expand test cricket into associate nations (which we should), it won't be done through bilateral tours. Most of those teams aren't and will only rarely be competitive with the best teams. And while India has improved, WI and NZ have fallen off a cliff of irrelevancy. What goes around perhaps, but the FTP is not working for those nations right now, and a tiered system or indefinite waiting isn't going to help that.

Posted by Rahulbose on (June 30, 2011, 6:06 GMT)

Some folks here don't seem to get the implication of two tier system. That means one group of teams is so bad they have no hope of competing against another group. Something like the Indian soccer team playing against Brazil. It really would not matter if it is Brazil A,B,C or D team.

Posted by McGorium on (June 30, 2011, 4:12 GMT)

@ deggles: I take your point to a degree, but must disagree somewhat on the relevance aspect. The Border-Gavaskar Trophy was started (I think) in 1998 to ensure frequent tests between India and Aus. It has no significant history (unlike the Ashes) and yet, while Australia were mighty, it had huge following thanks to competitive matches (Eden Gardens, 2001, being the first in a number of competitive -- and in some cases -- acrimonious games). It probably will have a good fan following even now. India and Aus had no rivalry before that worth note; in fact, Aus hardly toured India in the preceding decades: India wasn't a good team, and were not too competitive. Plus, facilities and all that jazz. Relevance can be developed if the teams are competitive (some friction helps). I believe the India-SAF tour generated some interest. The Ashes always generate interest. It is also true that a hyped-up trophy helps (preferably with WORLD CHAMP. emblazoned on it). It's not a necessary condition

Posted by khiladisher on (June 30, 2011, 3:54 GMT)


Posted by McGorium on (June 30, 2011, 3:52 GMT)

Seriously, Taylor, and Bravo count as test level players? Comparable in impact to Tendulkar, Gambhir and Sehwag? Gayle is probably the only person they are seriously missing and maybe Roach, because they are up against the INdians. Who do you think Taylor and Roach would they replace in this side? At any rate, what excuses? WI are 98/5. The pitch isn't a featherbed.

Posted by khiladisher on (June 30, 2011, 3:35 GMT)

@ charindra its a done thing friend-sri lanka can never win in india,australia or south africa,they have played abt 30 odi in india and winning abt 5,thats horrible.not even 1 test match win in 20 test matches played in india

Posted by   on (June 30, 2011, 3:07 GMT)

@McGorium WI are without dwayne bravo, taylor, roach and gayle so they r not at full strenght either, do not make excuses for india

Posted by RussDegnan on (June 30, 2011, 2:45 GMT)

@McGorium, that is a narrow perspective. There are three (maybe more) aspects to a game's appeal: competitiveness, quality and meaning/relevance. We can't help quality, and it is naive to think teams will eventually reach some "standard". Some nations will always be small, poor or disinterested, but they ought to have their chance. Competitiveness comes from structure, making sure teams get to play most, but not all games at their level - this happens, more or less. Relevance comes from having something to play for. Fact is, test cricket's biggest problem is relevance, games played for cash, and little else. If India was playing West Indies in a championship qualifier, players and public alike would care. But for a pretty bauble, and the WICB coffers, who cares?

Posted by Nerk on (June 30, 2011, 1:59 GMT)

Quite bored with all this rubbish. Cricket is becoming far too complex, all this talk about 20/20, runners, test championships and the like. Cricket is the best sport when it is played simple things are done well. Why the I.C.C. and seemingly everybody else in the world wants to make is so complicated is beyond me.

Posted by McGorium on (June 30, 2011, 1:10 GMT)

@ AQ75_57: The fear of tests becoming irrelevant is real, but not the sort like the Ashes, BG Trophy, Ind vs. Pak. It is the Aus vs. Ban or Eng vs. Zim that will erode test viewership by oversupplying a product with bad quality control. Nobody wants to see a ritualistic thrashing of a weak side by a strong side. Neither spectators nor sponsors are interested; heck, even players aren't. Tendulkar chose to sit out of the Ind-WI series despite being fit. The old FTP was the primary reason for an otherwise inconsequential Ban vs. Aus test series, in Ban, some 5 yrs ago. Did anyone care outside Ban? Put simply, Ban and Zim are not good enough for test cricket, and viewers vote with their feet. Commercial viability will come with performance, and then everyone will want to tour them. Right now, it's like forced charity. As Ian Chappell suggested, have Ban, Zim and other associate nations play first-class games against each other until they actually mature. Or the two-tier system.

Posted by SRT_GENIUS on (June 30, 2011, 0:35 GMT)

@Charindra: SL has made rapid progress in world cricket like no other - there is no doubt about that. And in sub-continent, they are as good as India or Pak and have the ability to convincingly beat India/Pak on a given day. But outside sub-continent, their batsmen - even the best ones - are not as effective. Maybe its just lack of opportunity or maybe they can't handle bounce like the current crop of India batsmen in WI. But that's where India and Pakistan have been relatively better historically. But till SL proves otherwise, they can't be put in the same category as the Ind/Pak - they will be ranked no.3 in the sub continent.

Posted by   on (June 29, 2011, 22:07 GMT)

Other sports such as golf and tennis are able to have ranking systems for all their members even though not every player plays every other player or is even playing in the same tournament. Something similar is needed in cricket so a structure is developed for countries to play most of their matches against countries most closely matched with them but also with flexibility for countries to move up and down the rankings based on form and results. On current form, India, South Africa, England, Sri Lanka and Australia would mainly against each other; a second group would comprise New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh and a third group might comprise Zimbabwe, Ireland, Holland and Afghanistan. Test Cricket should keep it's meritocracy but not be a closed shop. Everyone should be offered a potential route to the top.

Posted by Swampy5 on (June 29, 2011, 21:42 GMT)

@rahulbose: agree completely - similarly, after being beaten in the first, the WI pushed Australia quite hard in the last two tests of the 09-10 series. If given a fair chance over an extended period the 'second tier' nations should improve and be competitive. It's just that the current and proposed FTP doesn't give them that chance. The FTPs are based on money and what's good for the big nations. There's no consideration of being fair to the smaller nations, and that's why there's a risk that test cricket is in danger of becoming completely irrelevant to the sporting public in some of these countries in favour of the formats they play more regularly - ODIs and T20.

Posted by McGorium on (June 29, 2011, 21:12 GMT)

@RahulBose: The Indian side in WI is not the #1 test side. It's more like India - A. The only players from the #1 test side in that game are: Dravid, VVS, Dhoni and Harbhajan. That side is missing Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar, Zaheer, Sreesanth (yes... Sreesanth typically gets picked before Ishant), Munaf Patel. Even Cheteshwar Pujara, who would ahve been picked over Raina or Kohli is injured. 30-40% of the playing eleven are debutants or have played no more than 10 games. BTW, did you check WI score? 80/5. It's not Bongobandhu national stadium wicket, where a good test side will make 600/5 decl.

Posted by Rahulbose on (June 29, 2011, 19:54 GMT)

Two tiers exist between test playing nation only in terms of marketing and monetary value of teams not in skill level. Why just yesterday the top ranked side got bundled out for 201 by the low ranked WI.

Posted by purple-haze on (June 29, 2011, 19:52 GMT)

@Charindra : Yes, you are absolutely right. You guys should have been given more chances in Australia and SA, and definitely you'd have won many more. Quite similar to how just now were given 3 tests in England. And you guys won ALL of them. Isn't it? No wait, you didn,t win all........forget all, you didn't win ANY. My bad.! How did that happen now? Its unfair,right mate?

Posted by ArunKB on (June 29, 2011, 19:02 GMT)

Charindra, please wake up and see reality. You have had the so called best bowler, several great batsman. Mahela Jayawardane says Sri Lankans play better than other teams from the sub continent on bouncy wickets. Still, no test win in Australia or SA. Even at home, the record against Australia is not good. Something is missing in your statement. Yes, India has been playing test cricket since 1932, BUT the current generation has only be playing since the 90's, except for SRT. Remember, our players from 1932 are NOT playing. Win a test match and then talk.

Posted by Charindra on (June 29, 2011, 17:07 GMT)

@khiladisher - How petty of you to highlight SL in your comment! And in response, India won its first test series outside the subcontinent (which was only India and a weak Pak at the time), against New Zealand in 1967-68 after being granted test status in 1932! That's 35 years, in case you're having trouble with the math. And it was also NZ, which was really poor back in the day. So then why was India allowed to play Eng and Aus with such a terrible record in its early years! Think before you talk man. SL has produced the greatest bowler in the history of the game and some magnificent test batsmen. If we were given more opportunities to play in SA and Aus we would have won a lot more.

Posted by   on (June 29, 2011, 17:05 GMT)

@Emancipator007 luv ur desperation ....u can dream as u like desperately ....but nothing will come true ....even Pak have abolished their desire and dream to hold T20 in Dubai ....and China being a World beater in Cricket ...It won't happen on another 100 yrs ...and last but not the least Bang will never improve and will remain a minnow for ever ....and all this theory of population and passion is purely rubbish...even Bang ppl are passionate about Football ...but nothing has happened till now ....So Go on dreaming one can stop that

Posted by khiladisher on (June 29, 2011, 14:15 GMT)


Posted by theroyale on (June 29, 2011, 13:27 GMT)

"Did Len Hutton's 364 relinquish any of its aura because Australia were down to two-and-a-half fit bowlers? "

It certainly has now that we know about it!

Posted by Bang_La on (June 29, 2011, 12:59 GMT)

As long as England is considered a cricket team, Bangladesh will be afloat as a team too.

Posted by Swampy5 on (June 29, 2011, 10:58 GMT)

Rob- in praising and not burying the ICC, where do you think test cricket will be in NZ, Pak, WI, Bang and Zim in 2020? Better off? I doubt it, in fact it's more likely T20, with numerous domestic leagues, champions league, T20 championships and the like, will look even better and have a lot more to offer fans than test cricket in those nations by then, because all they're getting in test cricket terms are the scraps. A formal two-tier system is still unlikely becasue no nation wants to vote themselves into, or be relegated to tier 2. A well organised world test championship is the solution to providing purpose and narrative to test cricket, and a number of good ideas have been floated around. It would be better than the proposed FTP, where the top nations are on an endless grind of bilateral series and the 'bottom five' nations in particular have sporadic test series (predominantly two-test ones) which will ultimately be of little consequence to the sporting public of those nations

Posted by   on (June 29, 2011, 10:49 GMT)

sifter132's post is a good idea: two divisions with unequal numbers, but I would prefer a top division of 7, playing each other at home and away over a four-year cycle (12 series: no back-to-back home-and-away series allowed and no one-off tests or two-match series), and a bottom division of five (eight series only). One demotion/promotion at the end of each cycle. Second division matches not given test status but a assigned to a new category called 'official internationals' and records kept separately. First and second division countries could still arrange matches against one another if they wanted and they could fit them into the schedule, but they would have no bearing on the official rankings within each division.

Posted by dinith_sw on (June 29, 2011, 10:45 GMT)

Now this is what you call an article worth reading.

Posted by BellCurve on (June 29, 2011, 10:27 GMT)

Cricket is a team sport. Every player in the team should be given a regular opportunity to contribute. If you allow unlimited overs to bowlers you could end up with a situation (e.g. a few years back) where Vaas and Murali bowl the entire 50 overs between them, and Dilshan, Jayasuriya, Sangakarra and Jayawardene bat the entire 50 overs between them. The remaining 5 players merely fetch and throw. Surely that would be wrong? Think of the consequences at grass root level! We've all been in teams where there are one or two dominant players. This change would allow them to dominate even more and rob their slightly weaker teammates of the opportunity to play, enjoy and develop!!

Posted by Baundele on (June 29, 2011, 10:21 GMT)

The problem with the ICC is, they are not monitoring the improvement of new entries in the test world. They are not taking any decision to spread cricket either. All they care is the short term money. Not allowing new teams to play is not the solution; rather helping them to improve should be the motto. ICC should think about drafting in new teams in the scene, helping them to attain certain qualities. On the contrary, most of the teams, including Australia and South Africa are struggling at the moment. ICC is certainly going towards the wrong direction.

Posted by Gizza on (June 29, 2011, 10:18 GMT)

@Emancipator, it will take ages for China to develop as a cricketing force. Most of the sports which they excel in are simple sports based on few physical skills (Most Olympic sports are like this). Soccer/football is the most popular game in China but they still can't always qualify for the World Cup. Also the goverment can force people to play the game but not love the game. Indians along with the rest of the subcontinent LOVE the game. The BCCI makes money because of the fans not because of Tendulkar/Dhoni if you think about it. Sachin is only important in that he created more fans (more indirect than direct). When you compare cricket to other sports, you realise that it has to be part of the country's culture/identity to be popular. Similarly, cricket will hardly grow in the US. Personally I believe other parts of the Caribbean (Bermuda, Suriname), Sth Asia (Afg, Nepal), East/Southern Africa, Celtic nations and Oceania (PNG, Fiji, Samoa) are the fertile areas for cricket to grow.

Posted by D.V.C. on (June 29, 2011, 9:02 GMT)

i would like for ODIs, if each bowler started with an allocation of 10 overs maximum, and they were given one extra for every wicket they took. This way bowlers would be encouraged to be more attacking, and the chance of bowling a side out would increase. This minor tweak could really add something to the game. Imagine, Snith brings back Steyn early, he needs a wicket, two fly through slips and go for 4, the required run rate drops, then on the last ball of his 10, he picks up the scalp of the number 7, the tail is wide open and Steyn has one more over to try and scyth into it.

Posted by Dthinker on (June 29, 2011, 8:22 GMT)

The two tier is structure is already here, just not on paper. The only way Bangladesh will get more games is by performing better in the limited games that they have. Fewer games is not an excuse for poor performance. In this age, where money can buy the best coaches, top quality equipment, and nearly everything except performance, minnows need to produce results.

On the point of bowlers being restricted to 10 overs on the ODI games, I do understand what you are saying about unrestricted overs. However, this will only cause team captains to stack up their teams with 9 batsmen and 2 bowlers and ask each to bowl 25 overs. (ofcourse I'm exaggerating) But thats the kind of thing that will happen, and you'll get scores in excess of 400 every game. It will be worse that you imagine !

Posted by PSKI on (June 29, 2011, 8:14 GMT)

Am not sure how you say that bowlers are second class citizens or that batsmen have no limitation. One poor shot from the batsman, and his innings is terminated without a second chance. Bowlers can and do bowl several poor deliveries, and can continue bowling and take wickets. How about some parity here !!

Posted by   on (June 29, 2011, 8:12 GMT)

Here's a thought: having no limit on bowlers' quota in ODIs may actually end up favouring batsmen more! Here's how- If I have 3 good (and fit) bowlers who can bowl most of my 50 overs, then that gives me the option of packing my side with 7 batsmen + the keeper. So my team can actually bat deeper, and play more aggressively. Make that 2 bowlers (say top spinners on a turning track) and the dice is loaded even more in favour of the batsmen. So removing the restrictions on number of overs by a bowler is not all that completely a step in their favour.

Posted by sifter132 on (June 29, 2011, 7:44 GMT)

Hey Rob, nice article and some good thoughts: I like a 2 tier idea, a top 8 or 9 and a bottom 6 or 7 (made so the amateurs don't have to play as many series). I like the more overs per bowler in an ODI. Not all the middle over durge in ODIs is due to fielding restrictions. Captains have to find a quiet 10 overs to wedge your David Hussey's or Luke Wright's or Suresh Raina's. I wouldn't cry too much if we never saw those guys bowl much ever again. And just a quibble: Ricky Ponting never had much chance to hold back Shane Warne's overs. He only captained Warne for 18 ODIs, which just quietly, tells us that Ricky Ponting has been a damn good ODI captain not the 'captain of the stars' that he's been made out to be.

Posted by Meety on (June 29, 2011, 7:16 GMT)

@Emancipator007 - I agree, I don't think Bangladesh were ready for test cricket when they were promoted. I think they are NOW worthy of playing tests. The results aren't flattering for them but gee whiz they have a lot of bright spots. As you said Tamim & Shakib are close to being in a World XI in all formats. I really rate Rahim the little wicket keeper - I think he is the best keeper in International cricket, (batting skills excluded). That being said I think that they shouldn't have too many more tests then what the FTP has. I think in comparison to Zimbabwe, Bangladesh have been ripped off. In comparison to say Pakistan they are in terms of test allotments - about right. It is a shame that it will be hard for Shakib to play 100 tests. Then again - Don Bradman only played 52. Whats important is the legacy Shakib & others leave behind for the next generation of Bangladesh cricket. It is almost inevitable that in the future Bangladesh will have periods of international dominance.

Posted by Meety on (June 29, 2011, 7:04 GMT)

@smudgeon - I know what you mean by batsmen restrictions - but there is many more facing a bowler. I wouldn't mind seeing a return to the mid 1990s when it was possible to defend a total of 140! I still like my belters where both sides get around 300 too, but I'd like to see bowlers have their say a bit more. I think the fundamental flavour of ODIs changed once the Power Plays went to 20 overs from the old first 15 overs. I like the idea of say 1 bowler can bowl 12 overs. It can add to the tactical computations for the captain to make.

Posted by RussDegnan on (June 29, 2011, 6:49 GMT)

sashank, teams can go into a test match with 9 batsmen. They don't because bowlers get tired and they want options in the field. It is a tactical decision, currently denied in ODI cricket. The tactic of a proper bowling change won't pass, only become more open as options increase, and captains will be able to attack for wickets with quality players, not part-timers. They should remove bowling restrictions in T20 for the same reasons.

Posted by Notredam on (June 29, 2011, 6:44 GMT)

Irish shud get test status..and every year 15 odi..minimum..5 tests..see after 5 yrs..what heroes they produce..

Posted by amit_mangal30 on (June 29, 2011, 6:32 GMT)

Raising the limits for the bowlers is still a sort of a good idea, but removing it completely...I don't think so. Because that is the whole point of playing a game right...having limited resources and utilizing it to the maximum rather than enabling a God mode in every match for a player who has his day. It would be like saying why have pawns in a game of chess when we have knights powerful enough to combat the situations or allowing a batsman to score just one more run when he is out for 99, as he has put the effort to score those 99 runs right, so why the fuss for 1 more run. It would look good on his resume at least. We have test matches for this, bowl as much as you like, for endless run-ins till the steam runs out and still we have seen just two 10 wicket-in-an-innings haul over the entire history of the game. As it so boringly goes, It's not about quantity, it's about quality. A bowler can wreck havoc with just 4 or 5 wickets, like a batsman can with just a 100 out of the total.

Posted by Meety on (June 29, 2011, 6:24 GMT)

(cont) Tier B would play each other 3,4, & 5 tests. Tier B can also play Tier C over 1 & 2 Test series, (2 test series would be played at Tier C home grounds - One off Tests played at Tier B). In Tier C - Ireland would have test status. There would be the opportunity for special one off tests against other nations (thinking mainly Ireland v England or Zimbabwe v Sth Africa). As for the likes of Afghanistan, Netherlands & Scotland who are the 3 best non-test nations other then Ireland, they would play against Tier C but until they hade PROVEN results - would not gain Test status. Over a 4 Year cycle, side could get relegated & promoted. To me this would avoid hopeless mismatches, (not withstanding the fact that mismatches can occur between the best of side). It would also be the final piece of the jig-saw for the structured spread of the game in terms of Tests. The ICC has pathways right up to ODI status. They need to do the same in tests.

Posted by Meety on (June 29, 2011, 6:15 GMT)

LOL! Loved the comment "...How many games have been lost because Warne or Wasim Akram or Daniel Vettori lacked sufficient balls (and I mean that most respectfully, gentlemen)?..." I had good old chuckle over that. -- -- -- Regarding a two tiered test environment; - I have no problem with it. I am actually in favour of a 3 tiered structure where the top 2 tiers can play each other & the bottom 2 tiers can play each other. In this day & age where every man & his dog uses Stats Guru, it shouldn't be too hard to sub categorise Tests. For what its worth; I'd have Tier A being 1. India, 2. Sth Africa, 3. England, 4. Sri Lanka & 5. Australia. Tier B would be; 1. Pakistan, 2. New Zealand, 3. West Indies, 4. Bangladesh. Tier C would be 1. Zimbabwe, 2. Ireland with Scotland/Netherlands/Afghanistan. Tier A would play each other over 4 & 5 test series. Tier A would play Tier B over 2 & 3 Test series (3 Test series would be played at Tier B home grounds). TBC

Posted by Emancipator007 on (June 29, 2011, 5:28 GMT)

Also look out for that billionaire Gulf sheiks' -sponsored T-20 league take off ( I have put my money on that and all the mercenary cricketers playing in IPL would not mind playing in Dubai/Abu Dhabi if the money is right) and some Australian/Anglo/American tycoon ( I want that to happen desperately to cock a snook at BCCI) bankrolling Big Bash T-20 and it becomes Big in 4 years time. Do you see never-ending windows for them too? Whither international cricket then? HA! Outlier nation America (the one running those 4 professional domestic sports leagues) with its unabashed capitalism only needs to step into the fold and stir a hornet's nest. The split in world cricket or even breakaway ICC tiers is not too far off. Arrogance and hubris always have the inevitable fall.

Posted by Emancipator007 on (June 29, 2011, 5:26 GMT)

I have placed bets that China's cricket team will one day blacken the faces of the 3 arrogant boards-BCCI, ECB and CA by winning against their teams. When China puts its mind to domination in a sporting discipline (like they are planning to do in cricket), they aim for world-beating excellence. I am beginning to wonder whether the Big 3 are actually wary of any minnow nation (prime eg Afghanistan's naturally talented team) becoming world beaters and thereby usurping their status, monopoly and profits. As more emerging countries become prosperous (associate nations like Nigeria, Malaysia, Nepal with strong cricketing ambitions), there is bound to be a split or overhauling of ICC's structures, cabals and cartels. CONTD.

Posted by Emancipator007 on (June 29, 2011, 5:19 GMT)

Shakib and Tamim are 2 absolute world-class talents who will be denied the opportunity to play 100 Tests judging by the new FTP. Tamim scored 2 of the most incandescent, Lara-like (Yes!) 100s on the Eng tour recently. Shakib is a real, genuine all-rounder with superb felicity with 2 skills-both bowling and batting( much like Botham 1977-82) and has a wonderful record against top teams in ODIs. There is a case for hauling up BCCI (legally?) for not giving Bangla a Test series in 20 years even against a 2nd string Indian Test side. Blog posters and frequent dissers of Bang cricket forget that the passion for the game in Bangla is unbridled (which other minnow nations like Zim, Ireland ,Holland always lacked) and should in the near future produce more world-class talent and even a lucrative cricket market (Bang being more populated than Eng, Aus, WI islands, SL combined!).Actually at precisely this vulnerable stage in its cricket evolution, Bangladesh cricket should be supported.

Posted by sashank on (June 29, 2011, 4:35 GMT)

If the bowlers can bowl until they're fagged out, then sides will include their 2 or 3 best bowlers only in the team and go in to the game with 9 or 8 batsmen. It'll still be a batsman's game then. This way, they are forced to have at least 5 players who can bowl in the team - giving a more even contest.

And, the batsmen have a restriction too. 50 overs. You wrote about Sehwag bowing out on 200 to make way for Sharma. But, it's more likely (and also happened) that the batsman is on 180 or so and can't get to 200 as the 50 overs have finished.

I feel the game is pretty interesting as it is. Decisions like Ponting having to hold back Warne bring in rather interesting strategic angles to the ODI game. Without that, the thrill and excitement of the correct bowling changes at the right moment will be lost.

Posted by RussDegnan on (June 29, 2011, 4:01 GMT)

Rob, there are three reasons why a tiered structure is a non-starter: 1) Competition is only one aspect of box-office potential, another is star power. It will seriously damage test cricket in 2nd tier nations if India, England and Australia never tour. 2) The whole point of the FTP is to make big nations tour small ones so they can sell tv rights and fund their cricket. Without a system of revenue sharing, a tiered system would financially cripple the 2nd tier. And 3) there is an inherent danger in one of the major teams drifting out of the 1st tier such that key marquee series like the Ashes won't be played. A permanent tiered system is unnecessary to achieve what you aim in any case. If, across a 4-year cycle, 1 year was set aside for qualifying games (played across tiers) and 1 for championship games (for the top 6 qualifiers, but with a 2nd tier), then we'd achieve the same ends, with revenue sharing from the tournament, and without permanent disenfranchisement of weak teams.

Posted by smudgeon on (June 29, 2011, 3:52 GMT)

In regards to the question of bowling limitations in ODIs, I would think that batsmen are likewise restricted - they only have 50 overs to bat. While I sort of like the idea of lifting (rather than removing) over restrictions for bowlers, doesn't that fundamentally change the flavour of ODIs? Isn't it those restrictions and differing rules (to test & T20) that make one-dayers appealing to fans? Selectors & captains need to be able to select and manage 4-5 decent bowlers and balance with a mix of good batsman, rather than just picking two high quality bowlers who can bowl 25 overs each & then stacking rest of the team with sloggers. I quite like this juggling act and the imposed limits, it distinguishes ODIs from other forms of cricket (it's not just about the sexy pyjamas, folks).

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Rob SteenClose
Rob Steen Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, whose books include biographies of Desmond Haynes and David Gower (Cricket Society Literary Award winner) and 500-1 - The Miracle of Headingley '81. His investigation for the Wisden Cricketer, "Whatever Happened to the Black Cricketer?", won the UK section of the 2005 EU Journalism Award "For diversity, against discrimination"

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