An 11th country could be playing Test cricket if one of the proposals discussed at the two-day ICC Board meeting in Dubai is passed. Although the plan is yet to be fleshed out completely, the idea is that the winner of the ICC's Intercontinental Cup, contested between the top eight Associates, would play the lowest-ranked Test country on a home-and-away basis. If the Associate wins, then they will be the 11th Test nation, for a period which is likely to range between three and four years.
The marginalisation of the Associates and Affiliates in the proposed revamp of the ICC structure was a hot topic in the past two weeks. However Sanjay Patel, the BCCI's secretary, has said there have been a lot of "misconceptions" about the draft proposal which were revised and presented as a set of principles during the Board meeting. The Board will reconvene on February 8 and is likely to finalise the resolutions. No timeline has yet been proposed for implementing the 11th Test country proposal.
Patel said that the sop of a Test berth would only enhance the quality of Associate cricket. "The other part is Intercontinental Cup. There also it has been provided in such a competitive way that the winner of the Intercontinental Cup will be eligible to play with top 10 nations. They can elevate themselves by that," Patel told media in Hyderabad while attending the Ranji Tropy final.
Patel pointed out that the details were yet to be worked out with regards to the promotion and relegation in case the Full Member lost to the Associate. "First they (Associate) will play as 11th team and in the next cycle they will be considered," Patel said.
The Associates themselves are unaware of any such proposal. Two Associates told ESPNcricinfo that they had not been informed of any such move. However Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, hinted that England could feature against Ireland in a Test match. "If Ireland do qualify for Test cricket, England will guarantee that we play them. We have already looked at that possibility when constructing our FTP," Clarke was quoted as saying by the Guardian.
Having won the I-Cup on four occasions (no other Associate has won it more than once) Ireland would understandably be aggrieved if they are made to qualify to secure a Test berth. Ireland and Afghanistan are the top-two ranked Associates, and they clashed in the last I-Cup final in December 2013, which Ireland won convincingly.
It was the fourth time Ireland had won the I-Cup. The two-year long first-class competition is played between the top Associate and Affiliate teams, and the 2011-2013 season had a single round-robin league stage. The final was played between the teams ranked first and second at the conclusion of the group stage.
The top six Associate and Affiliate teams with ODI status between 2009 and 2012 - Afghanistan, Canada, Kenya, Ireland, Netherlands and Scotland - qualified automatically for the Intercontinental Cup. United Arab Emirates and Namibia were included after finishing as the top teams in the ICC World Cricket League Division Two in 2011.