The game's future bilateral calendar comes into sharp focus again in Dubai this weekend, as cricket boards get together for the ICC's quarterly meetings. The game's chief executives are meeting in person for only the second time since the Covid-19 pandemic on Friday to continue scheduling discussions that began last year
which will eventually give face to the next Future Tours Programme (FTP).
There is little expectation that a calendar will be finalised at the end of this weekend, but the meeting is expected to be the first in which attention will be devoted to bilateral commitments from 2023 onwards.
Over the last year, the building blocks of the calendar - the ICC events for the next cycle - have been finalised. A decision was made to continue with the World Test Championship but scrap the ODI Super League
With most Full Members now operating a domestic T20 league, all that remains is to squeeze the bilateral commitments of the WTC into the calendar. Boards have had virtual discussions but will now get into a room and go through what one official likened to "speed-dating" to chalk out their series for the next cycle. Those commitments will then have to be run past their own boards before they are finalised.
It should not be that complicated a process. Every member plays six series - three home and three away - over a two-year WTC cycle and with only nine members in the league, it's a matter of picking six out of eight opponents and deciding where to play.
In Pakistan's case, it is even simpler: without India they only have to secure six series out of seven opponents. The PCB plans to negotiate nothing less than three-Test series in the cycle but their challenges in these discussions - of balancing international commitments with domestic leagues - are illustrative of what some boards are facing.
Two ICC tournaments in the next cycle - the Champions Trophy Pakistan are due to host in 2025
and the men's T20 World Cup the following year - are scheduled for February. That eats into Pakistan's home season as well as their preferred February-March window for the PSL. Another logistical consideration by then will be that Ramadan - on the Islamic lunar calendar - will be occurring in those months.
It is a calendar proposal by the PCB chairman Ramiz Raja that has received attention in the run-up to these meetings. Ramiz will present a proposal for a quadrangular T20 event
in which he sees the two biggest bilateral rivalries in cricket - India vs Pakistan and Australia vs England - playing a single-league tournament annually.
The likelihood of the proposal being accepted is low, given the inherent complications: any cricket between India and Pakistan is beholden to political realities; Ramiz sees this as an ICC-run tournament, which, given how many tournaments the ICC does now run, seems impractical; how the other eight Full Members feel about not being part of this tournament will also, obviously, be a factor.
Indeed, the PCB itself does not hold out especially high hopes for the proposal but is likely to use it as a springboard to start discussions about the future of bilateral T20Is. Ramiz has argued that these games hold little context in the presence of franchise leagues and outside the T20 World Cup.
In that light, the scrapping of the ODI Super League last November appears relevant again. It was scrapped because of the expansion of the ODI World Cup to 14 teams - the Super League was 13 teams in all, from which the top eight plus the host qualified directly. But going back to ICC rankings-based qualification means bilateral ODIs in the next FTP will also be played with minimum context.