Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Burgeoning domestic T20 leagues are becoming obstacles as cricket administrators try and find a way to make Test and ODI leagues work in a new international calendar. And more than just a logistical issue, the problem seems to cut right to the heart of wider debates about the relevance of the international game.
One of the proposals to resolve the conflict, suggested by ICC general manager cricket Geoff Allardice, is to schedule fewer Test matches.
Chief executives of Full Member boards met this week in Dubai to discuss a Future Tours Programme (FTP) model they produced in March, but which is already looking unviable. The proposed FTP is the result of a scheduling summit that built on plans to introduce a 12-team Test league played over two years, and a 13-team ODI league played over three. Those plans were approved at ICC meetings in February.
But ICC management has identified a number of issues with the calendar and has told Members that, as it stands, the schedule means the new structures will not be approved by the ICC Board.
"In summary, the schedule developed by Members is too congested, and the competition models that CEC [chief executives committee] identified in February cannot be recommended to the ICC Board for approval if they are to be accompanied by this schedule," Allardice wrote in an assessment of the schedules seen by ESPNcricinfo.
"The schedule will need to be substantially revised by Members if these Test and ODI competitions are to be introduced."
As an indication of the scale of the problems apparent in this FTP, Allardice identifies "overlapping of tours" where some teams are listed as being in two places at once; there being "insufficient time" allocated for some series; series being scheduled "out of season"; and wrong formats being played in preparation for ICC events.
Allardice also pointed to other issues, including the fact that there was no reduction in the amount of Test cricket - which was one of the central aims of the process of giving greater context to international cricket and of providing more meaning to each Test, rather than just more Tests.
The thorniest point, however, is about T20 leagues, and new ones such as the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and South Africa's T20 league, set to launch later this year, and their growth ambitions. The ICC treads carefully around what is effectively an internal members' issue but it does put in clear perspective the dilemma facing cricket: how to balance the need for a money-spinning T20 league with that of the demands of international cricket?
"The windows for domestic T20 leagues (other than IPL) are relatively new, and have contributed to there being insufficient time available," Allardice wrote. "In particular, a 6-week block for the new CSA T20 league, and an 8-week block for the expanding PSL, have made the scheduling of international competitions more difficult. These windows have been positioned at a time when the majority of Members are looking to host their international cricket during the October to March period."
These issues gained sharp focus during a teleconference held last week between the cricket boards of Australia, England, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand, to forge a way out of the schedule jam.
Instead, it prompted boards into a mild tit-for-tat over the windows afforded to various T20 leagues (see graphic). In particular the new South Africa T20 league, announced just as talks to create new international structures were gaining momentum and scheduled for end of the year, had irked some boards.
"One board raised an issue saying that because of the new South Africa league, we are having problems in our scheduling for international cricket," an official who attended said.
That led to another board pointing to the IPL: "We argued that the IPL takes up April-May in the calendar and in that block, effectively, six countries including Australia have said we cannot play international cricket."
"You can't say one thing to one league - you have done that yourselves, six countries not playing for two months in that time."
Having acknowledged that these were serious issues the members then agreed to move discussions to Dubai.
Allardice ends by suggesting three remedies for this impasse: schedule less Test cricket, allocate more time in the calendar to international cricket or play fewer series in the Test and ODI competitions.
None of it will be easy. As an exercise, the ICC built an alternative model using the minimum requirements for each format, but even that schedule faced congestion issues. And failure to find a workable schedule this week, Allardice warned, would mean having to develop new structures altogether; given the hope that is being invested in them, that would be a significant step backwards.
"It has got to work," one CEO said. "Yes, the fact that everybody has got (T20) leagues puts pressure on the (international) calendar. But it just means we have got to find the mechanism and a way to work it out. Five-match or four-match Test series may not work (anymore). Maybe we consider two-match Test series and share the points. Just like the Premiership football."