Cricket is close to getting a long-awaited new calendar, one that will be based around a nine-team Test and 13-team ODI league. Full Members have been working on the details of this new Future Tours Programme (FTP) over the last year or so; earlier this month representatives from various member boards met in Singapore to ink in the virtually final details, barring some minor tweaks, in a scheduling workshop that chalks out the calendar from May 2019 to May 2023.
This schedule will now be looked at during the next chief executives' meeting of the ICC in February, which will finalise the plan before it is refined further and presented to the ICC board for ratification at the annual conference in June.
ESPNcricinfo has obtained a copy of the FTP that emerged from Singapore workshop and brings you ten takeaways from the new calendar (suggested reading alongside it is this explainer for the league structure). It is important to note that this is not yet the final, approved FTP but is close to the one that will be signed off on eventually in February.
Fewer Tests, more quality
Talks all through the negotiations to get to this point have centred on reducing the quantity of Tests played and have banked on the context - the Test league system - adding quality. At first glance, the quantity doesn't seem to have been greatly reduced.
In the current FTP (from May 2014 - May 2019) 238 Tests will be played in total. In the new one (May 2019- May 2023) 175 Tests will be played. As an average figure of Tests per year, the new calendar represents a reduction of approximately four Tests (47.6 to 43.75). But the new FTP has two new teams playing Tests: Afghanistan and Ireland.
Together with Zimbabwe, who are also not part of the Test league, the three teams will play 33 Tests. This means there will be 35.5 Tests per year on average that are part of the Test league.
The majority of Full Members (barring Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) will play, on average, fewer Tests per year than before: India, Pakistan, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies will play approximately two fewer Tests per year. Australia and England's figures will also drop (11.2 Tests per year in the current FTP for Australia to 10 in the new one; 13 Tests per year for England to 11.5 in the new FTP).
The difference in number of Tests each side will play means that devising a points system to feed into the Test Championship final - in June 2021 - will be especially tricky.
The other Ashes
The India-England Test rivalry is cricket's current marquee contest, standing alongside the Ashes in quantity if not quite the heft of cricket tradition. Over the four years the two sides will play two five-Test series against each other, in India and England. It is the only contest other than the Ashes that will be played across five Tests.
Additionally, there are only three four-Test series, two between India and Australia and one between England and South Africa.
Bangladesh step up
At a time when most Test sides are playing fewer Tests, Bangladesh will be playing approximately two Tests more per year in the new FTP, compared to the current one. In the current FTP they will play 33 Tests over five years, whereas in the new one they play 35 over four.
In fact, after the Big Three - England, Australia and India - Bangladesh will be playing the most Tests in the next FTP.
India versus Pakistan, naturally, is not part of this new FTP, it's not in either of the leagues or outside of them, in the bilateral window towards the end of the four-year cycle. The PCB is in an official dispute with the BCCI, which has said it can manoeuvre a series into the schedule should the political situation get better.
The other contest we will not see in Tests is England versus Bangladesh. The structure of the Test league requires each side to play six opponents over two years, so it is not incumbent upon sides to play every opponent. Nevertheless it is curious that this is the only other contest entirely missing from the four-year calendar and, given the engrossing series they played out in Bangladesh last year, a bit of a shame.
The Trans-Tasman rivalry, more surprisingly, seems to have petered out. There is only a solitary two-Test series between Australia and New Zealand in the four-year calendar.
One contest fans will not mind less of is between India and Sri Lanka: the two sides are scheduled to play just one Test series in the new calendar.
The Big Three...or Four?
The Big Three will play 28 Tests between themselves over four years; throw South Africa into the mix and the quartet will play 47 Tests between themselves over this period.
India will play 24 out of 37 Tests - or nearly 65% - against England, Australia or South Africa. Australia will play 24 out of 40 Tests - or 60% - against the other three, while England play 27 out of their 46 - around 59% - against the three. South Africa do not play many Tests in this next cycle, but 59% (19 out of 32) are against the Big Three.
The full tour is gone
The days of a full, long tour, comprising all three formats, are over. In the new calendar only a handful of tours between the nine teams in the Test league will include all three formats. Indeed, a number of tours will be Tests only, or Tests combined with one of the two limited-overs formats, or limited-overs only.
The ODI league takes shape
Each side in the 13-team ODI league will play eight series over two years, between May 2020 and May 2022, which will decide qualification for the 2023 World Cup. Each series will consist of three matches, meaning that unlike the Test league, every side in the ODI league will play 24 matches.
Because one side has to play only eight opponents out of a possible 12, a number of bilateral contests are missing: England v West Indies, New Zealand v England, India v Pakistan, India v Bangladesh, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, South Africa v New Zealand, Australia v Sri Lanka, and more.
The result is a noticeable drop in the number of ODIs. The current (five-year) FTP will see 414 bilateral ODIs played by the end of its cycle, whereas the new calendar will see 291 in four years. That is nearly ten fewer ODIs per year (82.8 to 72.75).
Almost all sides will see a fairly drastic reduction in the number of bilateral ODIs they will play every year. England will nearly halve their average yearly ODI schedule (from 103 in five years to 43 in four; Sri Lanka go from 113 in five years to 48 in four.
The only side that will play more ODIs in the new, shorter FTP is West Indies - 62 compared to 55 in the previous FTP. They are scheduled to play the most ODIs in the new calendar, in fact, ahead of India who play 61.
The (near) death of the five-match ODI series
Rejoice if you've ever wondered why somewhere at the edge of your consciousness two sides are playing a five-match ODI series. In the new FTP there are only five such series, and all of them are outside the league structure. Don't celebrate too hard, though, because one of those is between India and Sri Lanka (not until December 2022).
The bilateral window
A window between May 2022 and January 2023 is available in which members have inked in bilateral engagements that are not part of the ODI league. In all, there are over 70 ODIs scheduled in that period, including a few five-match ODI series, allowing for contests such as Pakistan v Sri Lanka, and Australia v Sri Lanka (neither in the ODI league) to take place. There is also one tri-series in Sri Lanka involving South Africa and Ireland at the end of the cycle: the days of the pointless tri-series are also nearly over.
Meet the new ODI: the T20I
In the current FTP, a total of 162 T20Is will be played (outside the World T20s). In the new one a whopping 260 T20Is will be played in four years (doubling to 65 per year from roughly 32).
Between January and August 2021, there will be a regional qualification event in each of the five ICC regions, from which sides will eventually qualify through to the World T20. But we will be seeing more five-match T20 bilateral series in the new calendar.