By Warren Heath
The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) recent announcement that Test and one-day international cricket are headed for a dramatic shake-up has created shockwaves through one of the most conservative of sports.
Traditionalists will argue the merits of history and look to retain the current status quo, most likely the same people who were dragging their heels when it came to the initial introduction of one-day cricket and the recent Twenty20 revolution.
For any cricket enthusiast with an eye to the future, these proposed changes should be seen as a positive and the ICC should be congratulated for their bold thinking. If cricket is to continue to grow and remain successful on the world sporting stage, it must continue to innovate.
Amongst the new proposals agreed to by ICC Chief Executive’s Committee are a revamped Test league to be run over a two-year period, and a 13-team ODI format to be introduced by 2019.
The motives behind the proposals are as varied as they are complex, but trying to limit the power and influence of the so-called ‘Big Three’ – India, England and Australia – is certainly a consideration. Perhaps the ICC feel that the tail has been wagging the dog for far too long and they wish to take back a greater share of control of the game’s finances and administration.
The proposals include a new revenue distribution model, primarily designed to address the current imbalance and ensure more parity between the traditionally powerful cricket nations and the newer, developing nations. The Board of Control for Cricket in India, which wields unprecedented power, voted against the new proposal after failing to defer the vote in a three-day ICC board meeting.
However, in addition to matters of finance and governance, with the growing commercial success of competitions such as the Indian Premier League (IPL) and Australia’s Big Bash, the ICC may well feel that they need to revolutionise and re-energise the Test cricket calendar to stay competitive with the shorter form of the game in the stronger domestic markets.
With this in mind, the recent ICC meeting in Dubai also proposed a newly constructed nine-team Test league, with the ICC also considering granting Ireland and Afghanistan Test status, provided they meet full membership criteria. This is big news in the world of cricket and would be the first time new nations have been admitted since Bangladesh became the tenth Test-playing nation in the year 2000.
Alongside the proposed changes to Test cricket, the ICC also proposed a new 13-team one-day league and promoted a regional qualification process ahead of the World Twenty20.
Perhaps most importantly of all, given an arguably result-changing decision during a recent Twenty20 match between India and England, is a proposal for the Decision Review System to also be implemented in World Twenty20 matches, providing a much-needed level of consistency across international cricket.
And whilst Anglo/Australian cricket fans relish the rivalry that has built up over the years during The Ashes, perhaps with patience and smart planning, in the future, a Test series between Bangladesh and Afghanistan may attract not only fervent support from their own fans but far-reaching commercial opportunities which benefit both brands and grassroots elements of the game.
These plans won’t be ratified until they have officially been presented at the next ICC board meeting in April 2017, but if they are given the green light, spectators and viewers at home will be witness to one of the biggest periods of change in the game’s long history.