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ICC proposals to reduce number of Tests

To bring more context and quality to international cricket, the ICC is mulling a "conference" style split among Test nations

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
World cricket would lose up to 10 Test matches a year under proposals presently before the ICC designed to bring more equitable league structures to the three formats and add more context to the international game.
Proposals for a "conference" style split among Test-playing nations would serve to broaden the number of teams playing Test matches while reducing the amount of fixtures played by the likes of England, India and Australia. The conference structure, believed to have been mooted by the ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, was floated as an alternative to first and second divisions, an idea vehemently opposed by the likes of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh for reasons of history and status.
Speaking in Adelaide during the day-night match between Australia and South Africa, the ICC chief executive David Richardson said the CEOs of Full Member boards agreed that the volume of international cricket needed to be reduced while the context of each individual match was increased. Richardson and the ICC chairman Shashank Manohar remain optimistic that the proposals presently in the works are on course to be agreed upon by the time of the ICC Annual Conference in London in June next year.
"I think we're at a stage now where, come February at least, at the chief executives level we'll have consensus as to the structures we can implement, particularly in respect to ODIs and T20s," Richardson said. "There's not yet consensus about the Tests, but certainly there's a recognised need that cricket needs context and league structure, we just haven't agreed at this point in time on the actual structure.
"We want to make sure we're not playing too much Test cricket, bearing in mind in some countries its not financially viable so we don't want to overload or play too much unnecessary Test cricket. The current average in total we're talking about around 45-50 Test matches a year.
"We don't want to suddenly put in place a structure that will see 70 Test matches a year played, so we want to make sure it is around 35-40, because we've also got ODIs and T20s we've got to schedule into the program and part of the problem is there is often too much cricket. We'd rather have less cricket, better quality and more context."
Among the current sticking points around the conference structure is the question of how many cross-conference matches could be scheduled, a feature of the systems used in the NFL and Major League Baseball. Provision for these fixtures would allow iconic series like the Ashes or England versus India to be played even when the nations concerned found themselves in opposite Test Championship conferences.
Interrelated to these discussions is the prospect of bilateral series television rights to be pooled among a consortium of Full Members. England, Australia and South Africa have led these discussions, and those boards are eager to go through with the concept irrespective of whether or not India join in.
"At the moment the commercial rights around bilateral cricket belong to the members, not the ICC," Richardson said. "So if they agree to give that up or share that or exploit it on a collective basis they have to agree it themselves. We're still facilitating any discussions the members want to have, but they're driving it."
Also meeting in Adelaide this week is the working group put together by the ICC executive board to work towards changes to the game's global governance structure and financial model - effectively rolling back the "Big Three" changes ushered in by the BCCI, ECB and Cricket Australia in 2014.
Manohar, the ECB president Giles Clarke and the CA chairman David Peever are among those included in the working group, which does not have a BCCI representative. Richardson was cautiously optimistic about prospects of the game's financial giant accepting any proposed changes.
"The working group has only got recommendatory powers, so it can't make a final decision," he said. "Any proposals it comes up with will have to go to the full board and be discussed with India at some point. I'm as confident as we can be that we'll eventually get some consensus among Full Members, bearing in mind to pass a resolution you need seven Full Members to vote in favour."
All these discussions are taking place against a backdrop of uncertainty for international cricket and mounting pressure from boards, broadcasters and players eager to further expand the amount of domestic Twenty20 tournaments played. While CA is one board arguing that a tournament like the Big Bash League must be made to run parallel to international cricket, other boards want to follow the IPL model of an exclusive window.
"I wish there was an easy solution, but the fact is that more and more each country is wanting to develop their own domestic T20 league and make it valuable in its own right," Richardson said. "If each member is going to take the approach that we want to play our domestic T20 competition at a time when we can attract other players there's never going to be any time for anything else really.
"The option of creating windows for domestic T20 cricket only and international windows is not as easy as doing that. They don't want to compete with the IPL or each other, so they want to find their own little windows. It's not going to be easy, FICA raise a good point, but finding the solution, FICA don't have a solution as yet and nor do we."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig