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Australia men's FTP takeaways: BBL window, the Afghanistan question, home Tests in March

There is a bigger squeeze than ever to fit in all the bilateral cricket alongside global events and the expanding domestic leagues

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
Test cricket will continue to run alongside the BBL in most years, but white-ball-only players should be available  •  Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Test cricket will continue to run alongside the BBL in most years, but white-ball-only players should be available  •  Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Amid the rapidly changing landscape created by T20 leagues, the ICC has announced the men's Future Tours Programme (FTP) for the next four years. Australia will play India more than ever, but beyond that there are other noteworthy elements to how the schedule has played out after lengthy negotiations.
Mind the BBL gap
Cricket Australia have made the BBL a top priority under new chairman Lachlan Henderson with a fresh broadcast deal looming in 2024. It has faced numerous hurdles recently with the proliferation of rival leagues in the UAE and South Africa even as it tries to recover from the impacts of Covid-19. CA had previously said it would like a free window in January, which now has a crunch of leagues, to allow Australia's international stars to play in the BBL. The plan has been partially successful.
Australia don't have any white-ball commitments in January over the next four years, but there will be Test cricket that will take the multi-format players away. They are scheduled to host West Indies in two Tests in mid-January 2024 as the ODI World Cup in October-November 2023 creates a squeeze on Australia's home summer. Meanwhile, in January-February 2025, there is a two-Test tour of Sri Lanka. That series will need to be played before the Champions Trophy, which does not leave CA much room to keep the Test players at home for the BBL. Then, in early 2027, Australia will make another unusual summer away trip to India to play five Tests in January and February.
CA's head of scheduling, Peter Roach, confirmed that CA had tried to create a January window. "That was the priority to try and free the white-ball players so they can compete in the whole BBL," he told ESPNcricinfo. "But we understand Test cricket works in that window as well. So it's trying to find that balance between the opportunity for everyone to play versus making sure that our Test product is still really strong."
Homeward March
There is another significant knock-on effect of the five-Test tour of India in 2027. Australia have not hosted a Test in March since 1979 with their home matches played almost exclusively between November and January each year, with the exception of the rare winter series. But, in the new FTP, there will be two Tests against Bangladesh in March 2027 with the home summer essentially split in half by a trip to India. Australia begin that home summer with limited-overs matches against England in November 2026 before hosting Tests against New Zealand over Boxing Day and New Year. Then, after heading to India, they will return to host Bangladesh at a time when traditionally only Sheffield Shield cricket has been played in Australia. It will also be just the second time Bangladesh have played a Test series in Australia, with the first coming way back in 2003. It will also complete a run of ten Tests in four months for Australia to finish their 2025-2027 WTC cycle.
Back-to-back West Indies
One of the vagaries of Australia's new FTP is that they will host West Indies for Test matches in consecutive home summers because of the new World Test Championship starting next year. They visit for two Tests in December this year during the final stages of the current WTC cycle, but the new one starts afresh thereafter and Australia are drawn to host them again the following summer for two more Tests. It's understood CA did try to change the order of the series to avoid the back-to-back visits but it was unable to find a solution. Australia will also travel to the Caribbean in 2025 for three Tests and three ODIs.
Winter cricket back in northern Australia
Australia are hosting Zimbabwe and New Zealand in the coming weeks during late winter in the north of the country and will have more internationals during that period in years to come with the climate in the Northern Territory and North Queensland perfect for cricket. Australia have experimented with winter cricket previously, starting with ODIs under the roof at Docklands in Melbourne in 2000 and 2002, to Test matches in Darwin and Cairns in 2003 and 2004, before abandoning the concept after an ODI series against Bangladesh in 2008.
It wasn't a popular offering for local broadcasters as it clashed with the football codes that dominate the winter airwaves. But they will host ODIs and T20Is with South Africa in August of 2025 and then a Test, and T20Is ODIs against Afghanistan in July and August of 2026. "We hope that [winter cricket] becomes a little bit more regular," Roach said. "I don't think it'll be every year but we know those games will be really well supported by all those fans and we also know the fans around the country, whilst they're deep into their footy season, still relish the opportunity to watch some cricket during our winter months."
The Afghanistan question
Australia were set to host Afghanistan in a one-off Test last year prior to the Ashes but it was postponed after the Taliban seized control in Afghanistan with CA taking a stance on women being prevented from taking part in the sport (the game had previously been postponed from 2020 due to Covid-19). Australia have two bilateral commitments against Afghanistan in the new FTP - an away T20I series in August 2024 and the aforementioned tour in northern Australia in 2026 - which will mean the CA board may have to make another decision on their position depending on the situation when the series are played.
More broadly, CA knows it will need to pull its weight in playing the developing nations and alongside the away T20Is against Afghanistan will also tour Ireland for white-ball matches in 2024.
"We want world cricket to be really strong, and it's not going to be really strong if we restrict ourselves to a handful of opponents," Roach said. "Having the opportunity to go and play these opponents, developing countries in some respects, is something we're really focused on doing. Not so much to be a good citizen, it's the right thing to do because we know what value it brings to our players and also the players in the opposing teams."

Australia's men's FTP 2023-2027

(* = home series)
Jun: World Test Championship
Jun/Jul: England vs Australia (5 Tests)
Sep: South Africa vs Australia (5 ODIs, 3 T20Is)
Sep: India vs Australia (3 ODIs)
Oct/Nov: ODI World Cup - India
Nov/Dec: India vs Australia (5 T20Is)
Dec/Jan: Australia vs Pakistan (3 Tests)*
Jan/Feb: Australia vs West Indies (2 Tests, 3 ODIs, 3 T20Is)*
Feb/Mar: New Zealand vs Australia (2 Tests, 3 T20Is)
Jun: T20 World Cup - West Indies and USA
Aug: Afghanistan vs Australia (3 T20Is)
Aug/Sep: Ireland vs Australia (3 ODIs, 1 T20I)
Sep: England vs Australia (5 ODIs, 3 T20Is)
Nov: Australia vs Pakistan (3 ODIs, 3 T20Is)*
Dec/Jan: Australia vs India (5 Tests)*
Jan/Feb: Sri Lanka vs Australia (2 Tests)
Feb/Mar: ODI Champions Cup - Pakistan
Jun: World Test Championship
Jun/Jul: West Indies vs Australia (3 Tests, 3 ODIs)
Aug: Australia vs South Africa (3 ODIs, 3 T20Is)*
Oct: New Zealand vs Australia (3 T20Is)
Oct/Nov: Australia vs India (3 ODIs, 5 T20Is)*
Dec/Jan: Australia vs England (5 Tests)*
Feb: Pakistan vs Australia (3 T20Is)
Feb/Mar: T20 World Cup - India and Sri Lanka
Mar: Pakistan vs Australia (3 ODIs)
Jun: Bangladesh vs Australia (3 ODIs, 3 T20Is)
Aug: Australia vs Afghanistan (1 Test, 3 T20Is)*
Sep/Oct: South Africa vs Australia (3 Tests, 3 ODIs)
Nov/Dec: Australia vs England (3 ODIs, 5 T20Is)*
Dec/Jan: Australia vs New Zealand (3 Tests)*
Jan/Feb: India vs Australia (5 Tests)
Mar: Australia vs Bangladesh (2 Tests)*

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo