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Test cricket

January 17, 2014

The two-tier Test system won't work

Martin Jones

Graeme Smith tossed, MS Dhoni won, South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 1st day, January 2, 2011
The two-tier system could just make rich teams richer, while the poorer teams gradually turn their gaze away from Test cricket © Getty Images
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The ICC has announced that it is considering a two-tier system for Test cricket. If this was to go ahead, I think it could be one of the worst developments for cricket in recent history. Now, first off, I know that's a very bold statement, and that there will be many who believe precisely the opposite. But to see the issue, you have to look at what sort of structure this might take.

One option is to have two tiers of six Test nations. This appears to be the most favoured option generally, and would likely mean a top division of Australia, England, India, Pakistan, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. There would also be two Associates involved, likely Ireland and Afghanistan. New Zealand could be at the top end of the second tier, replace Sri Lanka when they get promoted, then get flattened by a group of better-funded, better-prepared opponents before promptly being relegated back down again. After all, the only way to improve is to play with someone who's better than you, and the vast majority of second-tier teams won't get that opportunity.

And the argument that it would benefit Associates is a long way from the mark as well. Even if Afghanistan and Ireland were to be awarded Test status in such a form, then how likely would they be to be playing Tests for very long anyway? Are Bangladesh, New Zealand, West Indies and Zimbabwe really going to bumble about amongst each other playing loss-making Test tours? Of course they aren't. If they want to stay afloat financially, then they'll cut back to the formats that make them money: limited overs.

So with that option, you end up with a small collective of financially secure Test nations, and a vast swathe of have-nots, forgotten by the system and left to flounder aimlessly in the hope of promotion to the promised land. Essentially, you will end up with an even more effective way to cull the financial dead-weight from the Future Tours Programme.

And there isn't any guarantee that the Associates would even be invited. It's equally possible that two tiers of five would be created. Given that the Full Members have apparently all been given assurances that they will retain Test status, that would leave the Associates out in the wilderness as usual. Or perhaps they'll look for a top-tier of four and a bottom-tier of six. This would well and truly keep the four financial superpowers together in a cosy club of bosom buddies. Australia, England, India and South Africa, all playing each other and netting all of the cash, while the other Full Members desperately try to hang onto their coattails and feed off crumbs.

The reason this is even a discussion is because the ICC have finally realised that the four-team World Test Championship is a feeble idea at best. It is a format that would alienate most of the cricket-playing world and lack purpose for all but the top few nations. But what made all of that a problem was that the broadcasters wouldn't care a jot about it.

So yes, scrap the WTC in its present form. It's a lousy idea anyway. Replace it with something bigger, something along the lines of a festival of the greatest format of the game. Twelve teams, four groups, fifteen Tests, five weeks. A gruelling schedule perhaps, but one that allows the broadcasters to pick out the fixtures of most interest to them, or to buy all of them and hand the choice over to the consumer. It would be a huge tournament, would give the Associates some meaningful opportunities, and could be the catalyst for the inclusion of new Full Members.

Scrap this tiering rubbish, though. Don't even let it get on the table. It will not end well for anyone, and what you read was just a brief synopsis as to why.

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Martin Jones is a teenage swing bowler. He blogs regularly at the Popping Crease, and has an avid interest in the game at all levels.

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Posted by Krishna on (January 21, 2014, 8:23 GMT)

Well argued; but ill-advised. The two-tier system wouldn't kill tests. On the contrary, it would provide exciting contests. Of course, it is harsh that teams such as Sri Lanka or New Zealand might be forced to associate with the associate nations. But, the pros overwhelm the cons: playing against the Kiwis would teach the Irish and the Afghans a thing or two. The fear that these teams languishing forever in the second division and giving up test cricket altogether is silly: Kiwis would have given up on test cricket a long time ago if they weren't passionate about it; and as for the Windies -- I guess we better stop kidding ourselves as test cricket is dead in the Caribbean for the last ten years or more, with no hopes of revival or resurrection. This division would just give it the excuse to pull the plug and push the blame on the ICC.

Posted by Dummy4 on (January 19, 2014, 1:45 GMT)

I think the cycle should only be one year long , ten Tests each, as a home and away round robin. If the rich nations are forced to guarantee financial support the smaller teams, and/or guarantee lucrative ODI or T20 series to supplement the Test league, then two or three tiers will be more attractive to the smaller nations.

Posted by Ish on (January 18, 2014, 17:42 GMT)

You took the words out of my mouth Martin. I have been trying to say this in my one liner comments for many years. This is 2014 we do not have a elite class anymore , we only have rich and poor to be blunt. Cricket will not survive if we keep it to the few elites who can afford it and the only way weaker teams can do better is by playing with better teams. One only has to look at the hugely financially successful NBA in the USA. You see teams that do extremely well year after year and yet face challenges from bottom of the league teams with equal fervor. I hope cricket gods are listening to you.

Posted by Philip on (January 18, 2014, 1:08 GMT)

Support for associates is long, long overdue. However, I am still not convinced that this proposal will succeed long-term. The potential for a division between haves and have-nots is indeed worrying. It may simply exacerbate the current tendency for the marginalisation of less profitable series etc.

Posted by Dummy4 on (January 17, 2014, 16:18 GMT)

'The quality of cricket in div 2 will be very poor ' < Any poorer than watching South Africa or India trounce Bangladesh or the West Indies now? At least divisions would make team play other teams in a similar band of talent.

Posted by Shehan on (January 17, 2014, 14:56 GMT)

Well said Martin, this move will definitely destroy test cricket in few years. Test cricket is all about patience. Unfortunately present day cricket administrators don't have that quality. They are making too many useless changes to cricket, but get unsatisfied within a short period of time after the implementation of those changes.

Posted by Dummy4 on (January 17, 2014, 13:59 GMT)

Well said Martin, I completely agree. A tiered system would further marginalise NZ and the WI and test cricket in those countries would die. While some may shrug their shoulders at that, the world game would suffer. Less variety, less flavour, less joy in the game. We already have an unofficial second tier - those who live on no warm up games and a two-test series - and it doesn't help teams improve.

Posted by Phillip on (January 17, 2014, 13:57 GMT)

The quality of cricket in div 2 will be very poor & lot of financial losses will occur.Thus even more tests will be culled from the calendar.You have raised very good pts.

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