David Richardson, the ICC chief executive, has indicated that the governing body has come around to the idea of cricket becoming an Olympic sport, and that it is close to making a decision on whether to apply to the IOC for involvement in the 2024 Games.
The question of cricket's inclusion at the Olympics has long been fraught with difficulties but, speaking at the SportPro conference in London, Richardson reportedly gave his backing to the move, which would likely take the form of a T20 tournament featuring six to eight teams.
"We need to make a decision by July this year so we can make an application in time for September, when, as I understand it, the IOC will consider new sports for 2024," he said. "I think the majority of the members - and certainly myself - think the time is right and we've come to the conclusion that the overall benefit to the game in terms of globalising and growing it, outweigh any negatives, so I'm hoping."
The host city for the 2024 Olympics has yet to be determined, with only Los Angeles and Paris left in the running (Rome, which has withdrawn from the bidding process, had previously given its backing to cricket being played). Cricket has only featured at one previous Olympics, the 1900 Paris Games.
"T20 is the ideal format and we'd say even better than rugby sevens as it's actually one of the mainstream formats of cricket," Richardson said. "Neither LA or Paris would be a disaster for us, in fact both would be opportunistic, especially the US option."
The BCCI has been seen as the major obstacle within the ICC. The ECB was previously opposed to the idea, fearing it would clash with the English season, but the new chairman, Colin Graves, signalled a change in stance after taking office in 2015. Making cricket part of the Olympic programme has been seen as a way to gain access to increased funding and help spread the game globally, with the MCC a consistently strong advocate.
Richardson said the IOC had decreed the best players must be involved if cricket is to win inclusion - "They've told us we mustn't send beach cricket or six-a-side teams, it must be a format played at international level and it must be our top players" - and mooted the possibility of regional qualifying tournaments to decide which countries get to take part at the Olympics. He also suggested that England would be able to compete as Great Britain and potentially select Scottish or Irish players.
"From an ICC perspective, the fixture calendar is the most challenging part of it," he said. "In the northern hemisphere, the Olympics are held in the English summer, so that's a problem for them if they've got an Ashes series on. So there will be issues and England in the past have said 'are we sure we want to go down this route?'"