The road to international cricket's first Test Championship final has been formally unveiled, but debate remains over who exactly will host it - England or the championship table-toppers.
ESPNcricinfo has learned that there is a difference of opinion over where the final should be held. The ICC and most member boards have agreed that the first two finals - in 2021 and 2023 - should be held in the country where the game originated; for instance, New Zealand's FTP schedule for 2019-23, released by NZC on Wednesday, had the final pencilled in for June 2021, with England as the host.
The BCCI, however, is believed to be of the view that the final should be hosted by whichever team finishes at the top of the championship table at the cut-off date for championship matches - which is the end of March 2021 in the case of the inaugural edition.
There are commercial and broadcasting concerns into the bargain too as, according to an ICC working paper presented at a meeting in April and seen by ESPNcricinfo, the Test Championship final will be considered an ICC event, with commercial and broadcasting rights to the five-day match to be retained by the global governing body.
The ICC would bear the cost of "marketing, promoting and delivering" the final and retain all media rights to the final in 2021 and 2023. The paper also says that Star, the ICC's host broadcaster, has a proposal to pay $10 million for each final for the India-only market. Syndication revenue outside of India is projected at $5 million per event. This would be the first Test to be played under such conditions, with Test rights traditionally held by the host country.
But these details are not yet final, and the matter is expected to be discussed at the ICC annual conference later this month.
James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive and a major driver of the Test Championship and ODI leagues, said that the commercial rights value of the two finals - by some estimates expected to reap as much as USD 40 million in addition to bilateral series over the next four years - needed to be discussed in conjunction with a final decision over where they would be held.
"That hasn't been totally worked through yet," Sutherland said. "As a starting point in my mind the first thing we need to work out is where it's going to be played. Once we've worked out where it's going to be played the conversation would need to take place at that host country because it would have an immediate impact on their own local broadcasting deal then things can get sorted from there. That's something that is not a short-term priority but will need to be sorted out over the course of the next 12 months."
Issues of timing for the final led most countries to conclude that the English summer was the most practical place for the final to be played, potentially with a showpiece week at Lord's, the traditional home of the game. "Being a new concept and a Test match being a one-off, what we've decided and agreed is the best timing for the Championship playoff will be the June-July period," Sutherland said.
"We would like the idea, particularly if Australia was to qualify for the final would be to host that match in Australia. [But] for the first two years of the cycle, the championship match is going to be played in the northern hemisphere, in the UK most likely. Down the track member countries like being able to host it if we could. Complexity of the program can make things challenging. With the Test playoff you don't know who will play or qualify and still need to schedule matches for the next cycle.
"That gets much more difficult in our summer than northern summer when typically in July in any one year it's like there will be two players playing international cricket - England and whoever they're playing. If we were to play in November in the southern hemisphere or Asian market it's difficult to schedule, because eight or 10 Member nations could have matches scheduled."
On Wednesday details of the new Future Tours Program from 2019 to 2023 were revealed by those that have developed it - the Full Members - with the Test Championship set to feature the world's top nine teams playing six series apiece over a two-year cycle, culminating in the final. Australia's Ashes tour of England, immediately following the 2019 World Cup, will be the first series of the championship, which will consist of Test series of anywhere between two and five matches' duration. Points will be awarded for individual Test match wins, with matches in shorter series worth more.
A parallel ODI series league will begin in 2020, leading into the 2023 World Cup - the top seven nations in the league will earn automatic berths for the showpiece tournament, with the remainder being compelled to play a qualifying tournament. All ODI series have been capped at three matches apiece. Also significant is a rise in the number of Twenty20 internationals played over the next four years, with the hope that a league for the format may be added to the program from 2023 onwards.
"We believe that the new FTP will be a big step forward for international cricket with much improved structure and context for matches played in the Test and ODI formats," Sutherland said. "Together with other member countries we are confident that this will grow interest in the international game - and our team is very much looking forward to launching the World Test Championship with our 2019 Ashes series in England."