India will play more than half their cricket against Australia, England and South Africa between the World Cups of 2019 and 2023 if the proposed Future Tours Programme (FTP) - agreed to in principle by the BCCI at its special general meeting (SGM) on Monday - is ratified and signed. They will play fewer Tests and more T20Is, play more of their cricket at home, and will prefer to restrict their southern-hemisphere tours to the new year.
The FTP includes no matches against Pakistan outside ICC events, a state of affairs the PCB has challenged. The total workload of the players will reduce, too: according to the BCCI, India will have played 390 days of international cricket plus ICC tournaments in the four-year cycle that ends in 2019, but will only have about 350 match days over the next cycle, including two home ICC events.
The SGM has also mandated the office bearers - acting president CK Khanna, acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary and treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry - to nominate a working group that will deal with all the details and intricacies of the FTP, including the Members' Participation Agreement (MPA). ESPNcricinfo understands the working group will be formed from among the general body. By doing so, the BCCI wishes to retain some control and leverage when it comes to playing arrangements. In the past, India's participation has been used by the board as a negotiation tool at times, and a diplomacy device at others. While there had been a broad FTP in the past too, each tour needed a final stamp of approval from the participating teams. It is understood the body was not in favour of losing that power.
A final approval on the working group will need to be given by the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA). The CoA had already given its nod to the broad FTP, prepared by the BCCI operations team led by its CEO Rahul Johri. Representatives from all boards and the ICC met in Singapore on December 7 and 8 to flesh out the FTP.
In particular, the operations team has tried to eliminate the imbalance typical of India's FTPs. They didn't want a repeat of the 2016-17 home season in which India played 13 Tests, nor did they want another season like 2017-18 in which the only three home Tests they played came against Sri Lanka. The new FTP seeks to eliminate the home-away imbalance: most of India's cricket since their last overseas cycle has come at home, and almost all of the important cricket they play next year will be overseas.
At the press conference, Choudhary and Johri said they were pleased with the proposed FTP. Choudhary said India's home matches would go up from 51 to 81, which is about a 60% increase, but also said the match days would only increase by 20% - a clear indication of the reduction of Test cricket. India's tours, as is obvious from the increase in home cricket and reduction in overall playing days, will be fewer and staggered to meet the team management's demands of not spending long periods away from home.
The new FTP will look to some as a continuation of the infamous Big Three, with the addition of South Africa to a lesser degree, but that, according to those present at the meeting, was also a demand of the broadcasters. It has become difficult to market Test cricket that doesn't involve the four main Test-playing nations. Asked if this was a sign of things to come, if Test cricket was going to be played extensively only among the top four nations, Choudhary said: "Well you can say so. You can say so. But then time is not constant. There will be changes. These are things that will keep happening, and we will have to continue dealing with them."
India's engagement with other Test teams is likely to be capped to two matches per series, which is the minimum requirement of the ICC Test Championship. If anything, this only formalises what has been apparent for a while. In the cycle between the World Cups of 2011 and 2015, 80 of India's 166 international matches were against Australia, England and South Africa.
Another contest that did not enjoy patronage from the broadcasters was the Champions League T20. It has long been discontinued, but the BCCI has retained the three-week window in September originally meant for the Champions League, which means another T20-related event cannot be ruled out.
About securing a fixed home season, Choudahry said: "Traditionally speaking our season begins in October and goes on till March. While we were negotiating and preparing for the FTP conferences, we made certain assumptions. One of them was that it was a long season so let's qualitatively assign them into two parts.
"We decided October, November and December are our primary season. And January, February and March are our secondary season. The reasons mostly being the fact that you will attract more home crowd and there will be more certainty of matches in the first three months than the next three. The next three months, half of India will have other difficulties.
"We have tried to make sure that our home matches fall in our primary home season firstly, and otherwise secondary. We know that the seasons of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand will clash with ours, and we will tour them but will prefer to do so in January, February and March."