Test championship signals new dawn for five-day game

"South Africa were also set to benefit from the staging of an “extra” T20 World Cup on these shores next year when the ICC decided to implement a recommendation made by the current CSA chief executive" (Photo: Dale Steyn, Getty)

"South Africa were also set to benefit from the staging of an “extra” T20 World Cup on these shores next year when the ICC decided to implement a recommendation made by the current CSA chief executive" (Photo: Dale Steyn, Getty)

On the off-chance that international cricket is played between nations in a meaningful and recognisable format — such as a league — in years to come, last weekend’s International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting in Dubai will be remembered as the point in time when the game finally saved itself from irrelevance.

When India’s Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) in effect blocked the two-division proposal with promotion and relegation for the existing 10 Test-playing nations plus Ireland and Afghanistan, it was assumed that the nine “other” nations would continue bumbling along aimlessly in India’s cash-laden wake.

But the stars aligned differently, with India’s supreme court removing the intransigent leaders of the BCCI for refusing to adhere to codes of administrative conduct as well as the arrival of some new faces at the ICC and a refreshing determination to work towards the greater collective good rather than individual gain.

ICC chairperson Shashank Manohar was embarrassed by the BCCI’s part in leading a “big three” takeover of the global game’s finance and governance structures two years ago, and promised to undo much of the autocratically imposed legislation when he moved to the ICC. Few believed he would be capable of doing so, but he has delivered.

India’s share of revenue from ICC events remains the largest of any nation but will fall from an eye-popping $580‑million to about $280‑million in the current eight-year rights cycle. Australia will make a little more and England a little less, with Cricket South Africa’s share improved by $25‑million.

South Africa were also set to benefit from the staging of an “extra” T20 World Cup on these shores next year when the ICC decided to implement a recommendation made by the current CSA chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, when he was ICC chief executive in 2011 — to have one ICC global event every year.
Lorgat’s vision was to have the World Cup and the Champions Trophy once every four years, with a T20 World Cup every two years in between.

But when the current ICC administration offered the event to their exclusive rights holder, Star TV, as they were contractually bound to do, the financial offer from the broadcaster was tepid. Star had everything to gain and nothing to lose — and an opportunity to add a huge cherry to its cake at minimal cost. The ICC withdrew the offer.

Far better news was the agreement — in principle at this stage — to establish leagues for both Test and one-day international (ODI) cricket that players and supporters can comprehend, with a champion in both formats crowned every two years.

The current ad hoc assembly of bilateral tours requires the genius of an actuary to extract points and a ranking , but the computations are beyond most supporters.

The new proposal would see the top nine Test nations (excluding Zimbabwe and new boys Ireland and Afghanistan) playing four series each year, two at home and two away, with the top two playing for the title in a one-off “Super Test”. Away fixtures in the first two-year cycle will become home fixtures in the next cycle.

Teams such as Australia and South Africa believe that playing 12 Test matches in a calendar year is ideal, allowing time for players to feature in ICC events and lucrative domestic leagues, as well as rest. So, four three-Test series a year would work — except that some series, like the Ashes and those between England, India and, increasingly, South Africa, feature four or five Tests. It often means countries such as Bangladesh and West Indies are offered just two Tests — or even a solitary fixture just to complete obligations.

“The devil is in the detail,” says Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations executive chair Tony Irish. “There are so many questions to be answered — like can one of the ‘big’ nations opt to play their ‘home’ fixture against one of the smaller nations ‘away’ to avoid incurring a loss? But there’s no doubt it’s a huge step in the right direction.”

A scheduling summit next month will see all nine major Test nations attempting to find time and space to fulfil eight years of Test commitments from 2019 to 2027.

One almost inevitable consequence of the new Test structure would be India’s inability to become champions. With equal weight assigned to home and away fixtures, India’s failure to win in Australia, England, South Africa and even New Zealand would make it all but impossible for them to finish in the top two.

Once India’s forthcoming home series against Australia is completed, their last 17 Test matches would have been played on home soil, where they are invincible. No wonder they are number one. They would, of course, have far more chance of succeeding in the proposed 13-team ODI league that would also include Afghanistan, Ireland and another qualifier.

All the new proposals must be ratified at the next ICC meeting in April, by which time the BCCI might be fully “functional” again.

■ There can be no doubt that CSA’s new eight-franchise T20 Global Destinations League, due to debut in November, is being rushed. A decade of ground has been lost to the Indian Premier League and another six years to Australia’s Big Bash League, not to mention the Caribbean Premier League,  and CSA is desperate to catch up.

Without the luxury of time to build an in-house competition such as the Big Bash, which is 100% owned by Cricket Australia, CSA has opted to sell its eight new franchises to independent owners. It is the only way to ensure there is sufficient cash in the salary pool to attract many of the best players in the world.

Several business conglomerates and consortia, as well as wealthy individuals, have already expressed an interest in buying a franchise but, with asking prices likely to reach R100‑million, they will want complete control of their investment.

CSA will have no control, for example, of when national players can participate. And would owners accept transformation targets?

The new league is likely to be rough and ready in its early stages but that may be its greatest attraction. Brands will see the opportunities presented by a global television audience. No doubt there will be dancing girls and music, but the hope is that best fireworks will happen on the field rather than off it.

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