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The future of Test cricket dominated the two-day MCC World Cricket Committee meeting at Lord's, with the sombre conclusion being that it is in danger of dying out. The committee put forward recommendations including a World Test Championship, a trial of day/night Test cricket and pink balls in a bid to make the longer format more appealing.
"Except for certain icon series, such as the Ashes, Test cricket throughout the world, and in particular the lower-ranked nations, is in very real danger of dying," a statement by the committee said. "MCC's research proved that attendances at Test cricket have declined in recent years. In addition, there is a growing ambivalence towards the longer format of the game from cricketers in certain nations, with player surveys revealing that an IPL contract was the main career aspiration for many."
"The committee is deeply concerned that the proliferation of lucrative domestic Twenty20 leagues, such as the IPL, will lead to the premature retirement of quality international cricketers. Those from the lower-ranked Test nations could be particularly susceptible to such a career choice, based on earnings alone."
Referring to a World Test Championship, the committee said that the game "needs a World Test Championship and it needs one within the short-term. Work should commence immediately on devising the appropriate format."
Those views were endorsed by Steve Waugh, a member of the committee. "Test cricketers want to play for a world championship, like what happens in one-day and Twenty20," he said. "Something has to be done to lift the game's profile."
Martin Crowe, the former New Zealand batsman, suggested an eight-team format in which teams play three-match series and then move towards the semi-finals and final. The committee said the proposal, which must first reach an ICC agenda, would fit in with the current Future Tours Programme.
"If there's something to play for, it's definitely going to make a difference," Rahul Dravid, another member of the committee, said. "This sort of thing would help motivate players because when No. 7 plays No. 8 it's almost meaningless."
A ranking system is currently employed by the ICC and Australia sit on top of the table after beating South Africa in March. Cricket Australia hired consultants over the past couple of years to shape a Test championship model but went cold on the idea after not getting any support from the other ICC members.
Other aspects the committee hope will increase the attractiveness of Tests include playing day-night games using a pink ball. "We are hoping to stage one here next year against Bangladesh," the MCC's head of cricket John Stephenson said. "We would like to experiment with a pink ball. We've done the research and think it's worth trying. We want to safeguard the future of Test cricket."
After the meetings the committee also demanded stricter controls on the number of international players appearing in the IPL. "The committee is deeply concerned that the proliferation of lucrative domestic Twenty20 leagues, such as the Indian Premier League, will lead to the premature retirement of quality international cricketers," the committee said. "Those from the lower-ranked Test nations could be particularly susceptible to such a career choice, based on earnings alone."
The IPL chairman and commissioner Lalit Modi spoke to the group for more than an hour on Tuesday and emphasised that the league's success stemmed from it being market-driven.