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Give the World Test Championship a chance

The ICC and all the member nations must be empowered to market Test cricket with the same enthusiasm as they do T20 Getty Images

Broadly speaking, most cricket lovers have no problem with a divisional structure for Test cricket, as recently mooted by the ICC. Frankly, they would run with anything that brings a narrative to a game that is being overrun by T20. Promotion and relegation provides general interest and new teams might rise to the challenge of justifying themselves at the high table.

As much, though, as aspiration would be rewarded, there is a danger that the more vulnerable countries will be compromised beyond their control. There are three or four teams in the second division of the County Championship in England that seem destined to stay there. Were these teams New Zealand, Sri Lanka or West Indies - all of whom have found life hard at Test-match level at some stage during the past five years - would they, or the game at large, find themselves unable to sustain their participation?

The standards between the two divisions have grown wider in county cricket and they would surely do so in Test cricket as well. One argument says that is a good thing, a natural cull of sorts that allows the elite to concentrate on one another. The other argument says that there are only a limited number of teams. Given that we are trying to broaden the base of the game, not narrow it - while at the same time maintaining high standards - the last thing we should do is ask too much of those with limited resources, in case any of them become a subject of the cull.

I much prefer a World Test Championship, played over a four-year cycle of international cricket's major competitions. This allows for the retention of the Champions Trophy (brought back at the expense of a Test Championship for financial reasons, though it now appears the tournament might be on its way out again), but not for more than one major T20 event in the cycle. After the tremendous success of the recent World T20, ICC chief executive, David Richardson said he was not in favour of increasing the number of World T20s for fear of killing the golden goose. Now we hear the opposite. This is nuts.

"The Champions Trophy is a useful tool for 50-over cricket, reiterating the essential bridge it provides between the shortest and longest forms of the game"

T20 is the zeitgeist and should drive the game forward. It has financial muscle, global audience appeal and television commitment. Franchise domestic tournaments are beginning to take a shape, though non-negotiable windows in the calendar would improve that shape further. Freedom of movement for the players is better understood as an essential part of the game's future blueprint. T20 can grow the game but it must not become a monster, devouring all in its path. The ICC should set the parameters for T20 in every corner of the world and adapt Test cricket and one-day cricket to sit alongside it.

If one-day cricket is to have a sufficient profile, it needs a less-is-more policy, and quickly, before the public's patience wears out. We know the World Cup works. We think bilateral series are still attractive, though ticket sales are no longer prolific. They should be restricted to a maximum of three games each, making the tickets hard to come by and the memory sweeter and clearer. All bilateral one-day cricket should be World Cup cricket, as proposed by Australia last year, with the points making up a league table that decides entry and seeding for the World Cup as we know it. The Champions Trophy is a useful tool for 50-over cricket, reiterating the essential bridge it provides between the shortest and longest forms of the game and reminding us of its ability to parade a full compliment of cricket's skill sets within the time frame.

A World Test Championship need not be complicated. Every four years the top four teams during the course of that period would meet up for a festival of Test match cricket played over a month or so in the country that leads the table at the point of its conclusion. At this event, they would play each other once and then the top two contest a multimillion-dollar final. If drawn matches lead to inconclusive results, the teams highest in the original table go through. The same applies to the final.

In the way that Test cricket needs a story to tell, it is really no different from the IPL. Time is required to reach a crescendo and then focus is essential for the climax. Over four years there is time for the ten Full Member nations to play each other home and away over a minimum of four matches and a maximum of ten. Of course, ten is there to allow for the Ashes, the series that has done more than any other to keep Test match cricket alive and mainly well. That is a minimum of 36 matches per country or, in the case of England and Australia 42, over four years - fewer than the big boys play at present (India have 13 home Tests this winter alone).

Ideally, bilateral tours would consist of three Test matches, three one-day games and three T20Is, but the reality of that may over-burden the context it is trying to achieve. There will be a price for England and Australia to pay, both in terms of player fatigue and fiduciary responsibility. Profit made from extra Ashes matches must surely go into the pot for the staging of the month that we might come to know as the ICC Test Championship Festival of Cricket, and the two old adversaries can be proud of that greater contribution to the big picture.

At the end of this four-year period, the team that finishes last in the Full Member league table would lose its Test status and the team that wins the Associate Test Championship - staged concurrently with the World Test Championship to include finals during the same period and in the same country - would gain Test status.

"T20 can grow the game but it must not become a monster. The ICC should set the parameters for T20 in every corner of the world and adapt Test cricket and one-day cricket to sit alongside it"

Above all, the ICC and all the member nations must be empowered to market this with the same enthusiasm as they market T20, because unless we - that is cricket's inner circle - sell a vision passionately and extensively, we cannot hope to persuade outsiders that we have something relevant and attractive on offer. Then we need to sell the tickets at a sensible price, offer packages for families, kids and schools, and finally, dare one suggest it, get it on free-to-air television - in a simultaneous broadcast with a satellite network if need be.

Somehow Test cricket needs to be given back to the people. The horse will have to be dragged to the water, however, because in most parts of the world it has long bolted. The key is not to give up but to simplify and to believe in it ourselves. A suspicion lingers that key administrators have lost faith in the five-day game, preferring the ease with which they bankroll their problems through T20.

The costs of a World Test Championship will be high but the Champions Trophy pot and a share-out from the franchised T20 tournaments that are dependent on the players provided by the Full Member governing bodies, is the only way forward. Everybody must buy in to this bigger picture or the moment will pass us by: and that is everybody, the world of cricket in union.