International cricket has brought itself to the cusp of a radical shake-up of its calendar after top executives agreed on proposals that provide more context for all three formats. If the ICC Board approves them, a two-year Test league, a 13-team ODI league, and a regional qualification process for the World T20 could be ushered in from 2019.
At the end of a two-day meeting in Dubai on Friday, the Chief Executives Committee (CEC), tasked with creating structures for Test, ODI and T20 cricket that give meaning to international matches, arrived at the proposals that will now go to the ICC Board. The ICC Board does meet on Saturday but it is currently unclear whether these proposals will be discussed in that meeting or at the next one in April: much of the Board meeting on Saturday is expected to centre around a new financial model cricket hopes to implement. Having come through the CEC meeting, however, means there is consensus in the first place.
If the CEC proposals are approved, then from 2019 onwards cricket may see a rolling two-year Test league with a 9-3 format, where the top nine Test countries compete among themselves and against the three lower-ranked teams comprising Zimbabwe and most likely Ireland and Afghanistan (depending on whether they earn Test status). It is understood the CEC also approved a three-year, 13-team ODI league, the culmination of which will result in qualification for the 50-over World Cup, and a system of regional qualification tournaments through which teams attempt to qualify for the World T20.
And as the strongest signal yet that the short-lived era of the Big Three is well and truly over, the overseeing of this calendar will once again become the responsibility of the ICC.
The proposal for each format is as follows:
Despite talk of a conference-style structure with 12 teams, the proposals call for a 9-3 league. That is, nine Full Members excluding Zimbabwe will play each other in Test series either home or away once over a two-year period, at the end of which there will be a play-off between the top two teams.
The duration of the series will be up to the members - even a one-off Test can be considered a series. The system of how points will be awarded, given that each series will not be of the same length, is yet to be worked out. The home and away stipulation is such that, if, for example, New Zealand tours Sri Lanka in the first two-year league cycle, then in the following one Sri Lanka will tour New Zealand. If one team refuses to play another - as has been the case with India playing Pakistan - they will forfeit points. Full Members will retain the power to schedule bilateral series should they wish outside of this league structure.
The details of how the bottom three teams operate within this league are still to be fully worked out. They will play against each other in what will be Test matches, but essentially outside of the league structure and with no points at stake. Administrators, however, are also working out a way for the nine Full Members play a series against at least one of the three in each cycle, to provide them with exposure and the opportunity to improve.
Part of the reason this is not yet finalised is because it is linked to the question of membership status for Associate sides, which is on the agenda of the ICC Board meeting on Saturday. There is talk of decoupling Test status from Full Membership, so that a side - such as Afghanistan or Ireland - can play Tests without being Full Members.
At the end of a four-year period - of two cycles - the performances of these three teams will be assessed and it is here, presumably, where the Test ambitions of other Associate sides come into play. Performances there will be part of a criteria for Test status; another criterion is for countries to have a domestic first-class competition. Ireland's domestic competition was approved last year; Afghanistan's came up at the CEC meeting and it is believed it will also be granted first-class status.
A 13-team league will be played over three years, one series against each other on a home and away basis (because there are more teams involved, the cycle is longer). The 13 teams are likely to include the ten Full Members, Afghanistan and Ireland, and the winner of the World Cricket League. There will be a minimum of 12 ODIs in a year for every team (with no upper limit) and bilateral series can be of any number of matches.
At the end of the league period, the top-ranked side will be rewarded in some way. For the World Cup, the top seven sides plus the hosts will qualify automatically. The bottom five will play in a qualifying event along with an undecided number of Associate sides, from which two sides will go through to make up a ten-team World Cup.
Member nations can organise ODIs outside of this framework should they choose to and they will be given ODI status, but those matches will not carry points towards the league.
In one sense, the most uncertainty remains over T20 international cricket, mostly because talks are still ongoing over whether two extra World T20s should be played in 2018 and 2022. That is what will determine the length of any cycle for the format.
As it stands, the proposal includes one regional qualification event - perhaps similar in style to the Asia Cup - in each of the five ICC regions. Teams enter that event on the basis of points they earn from the bilateral T20s they play in a cycle. Each member, when scheduling an ODI series, is allowed to also schedule a T20 series, with a maximum of three games.
Points in those games take you through to the regional event that will include Full Member sides and the top Associates, and from here sides will qualify for the World T20.
The potential impact of these three models on the international calendar as it stands could be far-reaching. It could mean, for instance, encroachment into what have been considered fixtures in the year - an England home season for example, or Australia's Boxing Day Test.
Though there is consensus now for these models, much of how and when they are finally implemented will depend on the broadcast market. Full Members are locked into individual, long-term broadcast deals; some of them are up for renewal in 2017-2018 and how broadcasters react to these plans will necessarily have an influence in the outcome. So too will the pursuit by some boards of a pooled TV rights policy - where they put the value of their overseas market rights into a pool and divide the income among themselves.
How far the plans go will also hinge to some extent on the Board meeting on Saturday, in which the focus of discussions will be the new financial model by which cricket expects to organise itself. All reports suggest a hefty scaling down in ICC revenues for the BCCI from the figure that would have been due to them in the Big-Three model. If, as is likely, the BCCI puts up resistance - and dependent on how much support they can round up - some worry that their support for these new structures could be linked to how they fare in the financial model.