The ICC's move to introduce Test and ODI leagues does not go far enough in attempting to reform cricket's crowded global calendar, according to the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA). Tony Irish, FICA's executive chairman, called the proposed developments a "missed opportunity", saying they did not address in particular the rapid rise of T20 leagues around the world.
While Irish was broadly supportive of the concept of an ODI league, which will act as a qualification pathway for the World Cup, he was more sceptical about the Test championship structure and the ICC's decision to experiment with four-day Tests. He said that the governing body could have done more to create a coherent structure for the game "by adopting clear internationally recognised scheduling windows", in order to resolve "the inherent conflict for players between international cricket and domestic T20 leagues".
As the collective voice for national players' unions, FICA also criticised the lack of player involvement in the "final development of the competition structures" put forward by the ICC at its board meeting in Auckland this week.
"Whilst some of what ICC has now agreed is positive, notably in regard to the ODI league, we feel that the game has missed a significant opportunity to provide real clarity and consistency to the overall global structure," Irish said.
"One of international cricket's biggest challenges is the increasing prioritisation by players of T20 leagues ahead of international cricket and this can only be addressed by appropriate structural change. FICA's 2016 International Cricket Structure Review, which was shared with the ICC, is based on collective player views, player labour market data and player insights from around the world. It identified key areas which we, and the players, believe needed to be addressed as part of a much needed change in the global structure aimed at ensuring the health and viability of international cricket.
"The introduction of Test and ODI leagues to create context and sporting narrative was one of these but others include, for example, the removal of the inherent conflict for players between international cricket and domestic T20 leagues, balancing all three formats of the game, removing scheduling conflicts by adopting clear internationally recognised scheduling windows, adopting a centralised approach to potential innovations such as day/night and four-day Tests and developing a clear pathway and meritocratic opportunity for developing nations. These really should have been addressed in one new structure."
Irish said that the likely fall in bilateral ODIs due to the introduction of a 13-team league format, with series set to be contested over three matches, was a positive development in helping to reduce the number of meaningless international fixtures. However, he was less convinced by attempts to give Test cricket more context.
While the points-scoring system is yet to be worked out, Test nations will play each other in six series of varying length (minimum two Tests) between 2019 and 2021, before the top two contest a championship final. Irish described the competition structure as "confusing" and felt more could have been done to support the two newest Test sides, Ireland and Afghanistan, and those that wish to follow in their footsteps.
"The fact that countries will play different numbers of Test matches in a series depending on the opposition will mean that any points system will not be simple and easily understandable," Irish said. "We will have to see exactly how the points will work but I think it's a challenge to run a genuine league when some countries will be playing significantly more matches than other countries in the same league table.
"It is also left up to countries to play Test matches outside the competition structure which is likely to be confusing, and simply adds volume without context. Perhaps some of these non-league matches will be against new Test nations but then it's a pity that there is no clear pathway for those countries to advance or enter the competition based on merit."
Irish also questioned the ICC's decision to sanction four-day Tests - starting with South Africa's Boxing Day fixture against Zimbabwe - since they will not be part of the new championship structure. While acknowledging the potential benefits of reducing the number of playing days, he said FICA "doesn't see the need to tinker with what many treasure as part of the heritage and tradition of the game".
He concluded by chiding the ICC for a lack of player consultation in the latter stages of the process. "Although FICA was involved in conceptual discussions on these leagues neither we, nor the players, have been part of the final development of the competition structures. I think we should have been, especially because the player labour market and player decision-making are significant drivers of what the future of the game will look like.
"It seems that the agreed structure will be locked-in for some time. We will now have to see whether the changes have gone far enough to sufficiently enhance international cricket."