Former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe has come up with an idea to reinvigorate Test cricket: a knockout Test championship to be held every year with a final to be played at Lord's. Crowe, who is also a member of the MCC's World Cricket Committee, said the games would ideally eventually become day-night Tests.
Crowe will present his plan to the ICC in November and also sent his idea to the Sydney Morning Herald, in which he mentioned the potential danger to the longest format. His idea was specifically designed to lift the flagging interest in contests between lower-ranked teams, as their games would become elimination matches.
''If we don't do something soon then the bottom teams in particular will wilt away and the bottom will fall out of the pinnacle format of the game," Crowe said. "Test cricket needs a meaning and a new motivation among all these other shorter version comps that are scheduled every year. It needs a Test champion, annually.''
Among the issues that could hamper the committee's proposal is the sharing of broadcast revenue during the finals by the concerned boards. India and England are believed to have opposed the Test championship idea because it would mean splitting the profits of their lucrative television deals.
But Crowe had a ready solution. ''If hosting quarter-finals is shared, then you don't have an issue with sharing rights," he said. "This is for the top eight teams only, which would exclude Bangladesh in the next stage. But if they get up to top eight in next stage then in they go.
''For those who make the semis and finals then the pie is shared with them. Obviously, [the] ECB would demand a hosting fee for the final and semis - and why not? Or the semis can be played earlier if the two teams involved want to arrange it, higher ranking gets advantage or if the event is already scheduled in the FTP. These are smaller problems to overcome.''
The ICC is keen on a Test championship in some form, but developing such a plan that is welcomed by all countries has been problematic. The ICC's chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, said a Test championship could be implemented by 2012, if all the ICC's members agreed.
"I would like to convince people that the way to ensure Test cricket survives is through a championship model," Lorgat told the Guardian. "The only two countries who do not see the argument are India and England, but debate is growing all the time. The MCC seem to have come out in favour but when I met the ECB recently it was the wrong time to tackle them in detail. They were too high on the Ashes."
The ICC would need to reconsider the Future Tours Programme (FTP), which requires countries to regularly play each other home and away in series of at least two Tests while allowing the national boards to hold longer series, such as the five-match Ashes campaigns. However, Crowe believed the good of the game must be put ahead of national interests.
''There are pitfalls with the FTP scheduled years out so they must, over the next full stage of the FTP, ensure it rotates fairly and everyone gets a go to host quarter-finals," Crowe said. "Like all good competitions, everyone starts with a fair chance. This gives incentive to the lower teams to be motivated every year. The motivation is to play the final at Lord's. That is truly meaningful.
''When a series is drawn then rankings apply - so that means every Test played has a meaning. So what we are creating here is by using an already existing schedule, we are able to use a simple knockout format to crown the Test champion each year. This we could call the Test Cricket Open.''
Tony Lewis, the chairman of the MCC World Cricket Committee, which also counts Steve Waugh, Anil Kumble, Mike Atherton, Rahul Dravid and Andy Flower among its board members, said: ''We're quite happy for this proposal to get knocked down by a better idea. But I think we all would agree that something needs to be done. As long as the ICC bring cricket sense to political bias, then things should be possible.''