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Test cricket

August 23, 2013

How to schedule cricket: a four-year plan

Ramakanth Josyula

Steven Smith advances to hit down the ground, England v Australia, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 1st day, August 21, 2013
Rigidity in scheduling may be the way to go, if Test cricket is to stay healthy © Getty Images

Cricket in its current form has no rigidly-structured schedule and while several current and former cricketers have suggested ways to make improvements, this article tries to draw up a structured four-year plan for all forms of cricket.

Before going into the details of the schedule, here are a set of proposed changes that could prove beneficial. (1) Test nations need to be re-organised into two groups, one comprising eight teams and the other, four. While the first group would contain the top eight Test playing nations - Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies and South Africa, as per the current rankings - the other group would have the four next-best teams. (2) The World Twenty20 should be played once every four years instead of its current rotation of every two years, alternating with the Champions Trophy.

How the four-year plan would work
The top-eight Test nations that make up Group A, over a four-year period (starting and ending with the Test Championship), will have to play each other home and away. So each team would play 14 series over a four-year period at the end of which the Test Championship will be staged.

Only points gained in these 14 series are to be counted towards the Test Championship - any other series played outside the officially-scheduled 14 should not be counted. The purpose of such a move is to ensure that while cricket boards are welcome to organise series with other countries for monetary purposes (any number of times), since they add no value towards the Test Championship, the number of meaningless and repetitive series (Sri Lanka v India, anyone?) would be reduced. This will also help avoid situations wherein a team has not toured another country for more than four years.

Each series will not comprise just Tests, though, but also ODIs and Twenty20s. While it is preferred that two-Test series are avoided, it is not possible to have at least three-Tests in every series given the constraints of scheduling so many series withing a limited time frame. The proposed solution for this would be in the way the points for each series are calculated, demonstrated in the table below.

Points system for Tests

The points system would help in achieving the following:

  • Encourage teams to play at least three Tests in a series, as well as provide an incentive for each Test match won to discourage teams from being happy with draws once the series has been won
  • Since each team is guaranteed to play every other Test playing nation, there is no need to have a differential points system where points are awarded based on the ranking of the opposition. In short, all series carry equal weightage
  • As explained earlier, with 0 points for matches outside the official four-year plan, even if cricket boards look to play more for monetary gains, the cricketers would hopefully protest at their efforts going to waste in such series

Another problem cricket currently faces is the number of irrelevant ODI series that are being played, especially with some bilateral series having up to seven games. The solution, again, is to have a more rigid system in place. For example:

  • A two-Test series can only have a maximum of three ODIs and one T20
  • A thee- or four-Test series can only have a maximum of five ODIs and two T20s
  • A five-Test series can have a maximum of seven ODIs and two T20s

Once again, the idea here is to disallow two-Test series or seven-ODI series unless accompanied by the corresponding number of games in other formats. If a cricket board wants to play five ODIs, then it would have to increase the Tests being played from two to three. To deal with the issue of extra, irrelevant series, the Champions Trophy could be introduced, played once every four years (alternating with the World T20). Points accumulated through the four-year plan series would count towards deciding eligibility for the Champions Trophy. Once again, only series in the four-year plan would count and not those outside it.

Group B in Test cricket, comprising of the four teams that constitute the best of the rest, would also play Tests against each other during the four-year period but with the added guarantee that each of the top eight teams would play at least one series against them in the four-year period. (The alternative is to ensure each team from the top eight plays at least one Test and an ODI every year against the bottom four).

The Test Championship
At the end of the four years, when the points are calculated to decide the rankings of the top eight and (independently) the next four, these rankings will determine which teams play the Test Championship. The proposed idea is to have the top-two ranked teams gain direct entry into the semi-finals, while the next eight sides play two rounds to decide the other semi-finalists.


The Champions Trophy could also be designed in a similar manner, where the points accumulated decide if the team qualifies directly for the semi-finals or has to play more matches.

Here is a sample four-year plan, with ample room for the proposed Champions Trophy replacing one of the two scheduled World T20s.


The months mentioned are merely suggestive and not definite. Also, the years used for the example are arbitrary and have been chosen to merely represent a 4 year plan which includes the 4 major ICC events.

Flaws in the four-year plan
A possible flaw is the lack of multi-nation ODI tournaments. Each team could be allowed one such tournament every two years, which is counted towards the ODI ranking.

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Comments have now been closed for this article

Posted by Dummy4 on (September 5, 2013, 7:40 GMT)

Spot on... Especially the idea of having 14 series in 4 years for each team and avoid irregular odi series scheduling... I would advise to totally eradicate 2 test series and please dont allow BD to interfere with big 8. BD has not won single test against a regular test team...

Posted by Hardik on (August 27, 2013, 11:28 GMT)

good to see an idea coming around the basic scheduling structure.great work on the permutation combination regarding to the 4 year plan . i have the same idea except few additions > 1.instead of playing Bilateral ODI series we can promote a new structure of ODI cricket with Multinational Tournaments which comprises 3 or more teams .like a Indian Series , Australian Series & England Series.

2.should be different points for home and away test and the points awarded on the series win must depend on the no. of matches won in series . Ex: TestWin Home -3pts,Away-4pts . Series win =no. of matches won*2.5 (away) and *2.0(Home)

3.T-20 cricket should not be played Bilaterally on an international tour. IPL BBL Champions league are enough.

4.Test Championship is a waste idea .and the one who won max points during that 4 years should be the test champion.

5. no. of Test matches away must be equal to no. of Test at home during every 4 year round.

Posted by Rupesh on (August 25, 2013, 20:19 GMT)

Too many points are awarded for series wins relative to Test wins. This only encourages drawing out renaming Tests. A series win should be no more than an extra Test win, at the most. You are already gaining more points by winning more Tests, so there is no need to give a lot of points for winning series, which encourages draws. Also, IMO having 10 teams compete for Test championships is too much. Top 2 should be in the semis, and the next 4 would fight it out for the other two spots. Even playing the whole championship only among top 4 teams is better. If everyone gets in anyway, there is no incentive for maintaining rankings or winning Tests. Only the top 4 play, with the #1 team hosting, that's it. This will make a fierce competition to get into top 4.

Posted by Prashant on (August 24, 2013, 15:20 GMT)

Brilliant idea, except that I don't think having a semi-final/final for Test championship makes sense. This should be like football. The highest ranked Test team at the end of the 4YP should be the Test winner for that period. Otherwise, it's possible that a team that has done well for 4 years could just happen to slip on a given Test and end up losing (which is what happens in knockout tournaments) and that could be a little unfair.

Posted by Dummy4 on (August 24, 2013, 14:24 GMT)

Great attempt at introducing a structure! I like how you've allowed nations to decide on the length of their series and tied the number of odi's and t20i's played to tests. That gives boards some financial control over each tour. I also like the points structure which incentivises longer test series, since nations playing a 5 test series have the opportunity to obtain a maximum of 40 points whereas a 3 test series allows a maximum of 17 points to be acquired (if I understood the system correctly).

However I would change the actual structure of the test championship that you propose. 2 teams directly qualifying for the semi finals and then 2 rounds between the next 8 seems like a lot of test matches played in a neutral venue. I would simply take the top 4 and have the semis and finals. That way you can space the matches and incorporate reserve days to allow for rain (i.e. schedule 7 days for a 5 day test).

Posted by Dummy4 on (August 24, 2013, 10:34 GMT)

Really like the idea. Fully support it. It does give cricket cotext. Hopefully this idea or something simililar to this idea goes through in the cricket world.

Posted by Gavin on (August 24, 2013, 5:44 GMT)

Looks good, a smart way to slowly introduce test cricket to developing nations like Ireland and Afghanistan. Would assume a play-off would be held at the end of each cycle to determine the next cycles Group A sides, the 2 to be relegated to Group B, and maybe ones to be promoted from associate cricket as well.

Posted by Philip on (August 23, 2013, 17:14 GMT)

Very nice. One of the better pieces on the issue at hand, and much in line with the ideas I've had on the matter.

I particularly like how you've included as many teams as possible in the test championship, something that I think is vital for the tournament to be a success. If it stays as a 4 team tournament forever, it will do little to help test cricket grow.

One thing I would like to see would be to have any test side playing any other in a fully meaningful test series, which this proposal wouldn't allow, as far as I can see, as laid out here. My mind would be more drawn towards a system with 6 teams in each group, and 10 of the series against the other teams in the group, home and away, and the other 4 against sides in the other group. Maybe that has other disadvantages, namely that it would require lots of cricket played by all the countries, and that some of the big nations would have to miss out.

Either way, very good ideas and exactly the kind of thing that test cricket needs

Posted by Ryo on (August 23, 2013, 15:22 GMT)

NEVER GONNA HAPPEN. A Test league has been proposed many times before. It's easily feasible. The problem is the big boys Ind, Eng, Aus habitually discriminate against the lower ranked teams because there's very little money to be made from playing them. The big three are all content playing mostly amongst themselves and the odd series against their friends. It maximises their viewership, sponsors and revenue. Do you really think Aus want to play Sri Lanka in 2 test series in a short period when they could easily fill one of those tours with another against South Africa? The FTP doesn't work. But it generates money the way the big boys want. And that's why it'll be persevered with. Life ain't fair. And the ICC doesnt care.

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