There is no doubt that the future of Test cricket is the biggest challenge for cricket administrators. The introduction of pink-ball cricket to play day-night Tests to draw more spectators to the stadium is just one of the ways they have tried to keep the five-day game alive.
Reducing Tests to four days as a concept was floated as early as 2000 by Australia, who were decimating the opposition in three days as the No 1-ranked team. Matches were not uniformly exciting and those that didn’t feature the big guns didn’t attract lucrative TV deals or fans. This has been a major concern for cricket administrators for years.
On the face of it, this was the background in which the International Cricket Council (ICC) had pushed for a two-tier system in Tests, which was shelved on Wednesday after the influential Indian cricket board (BCCI) shot down the idea.
India argued that it would prove a financial disaster for the weaker teams, and led Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in opposing the move at the ICC meetings in Dubai.
The ICC, in a statement on Wednesday, admitted the plan has been shelved, without saying it in as many words.
“Encouragingly there is an appetite from the ten full members for more context around all three formats of the game and we have consensus on a range of areas. This includes the details of ODI and T20 structures and principles around Test cricket schedules, which include the concept of a Test Champion play-off every two years, and the opportunity for more nations to be involved.
“There are some complexities, not least because of scheduling and existing structures, but we envisage the changes being implemented for 2019.”
The proposal, had it been ratified, would have slotted the top seven teams in Division One and the other three Test teams in the lower tier with Afghanistan and Ireland. Promotion and relegation would have been the incentive. The ICC argument was that it would have provided context while leaving iconic series like the Ashes or those involving India untouched.
But the Indian board has strongly opposed the proposal, which has been strongly backed by ICC CEO and former South Africa wicketkeeper Dave Richardson.
The BCCI has in the past been seen as the villain every time it had taken on the ICC. It has been seen as flexing its financial muscle, as India accounts for well over 70% of the global cricket revenue.
But this time is was more about protecting its revenue interest as well because the ICC had proposed getting all Test teams to give up their overseas TV rights, which would go into a common pool and be marketed by the ICC, which would then distribute the revenue. The BCCI dismissed it as a ‘losing proposal’.
In fact, a major issue with the two-tier plan was the absence of a clear financial roadmap, the ICC having initially pushed for the two-tier plan on the plank of improving Test cricket’s sagging interest.
The BCCI has also been unhappy with its former head, Shashank Manohar, the ICC chairman. He was seen as pushing through proposals that would affect the BCCI’s revenue.
Already, the Indian board is upset that it is not represented in the ICC’s all-important Financial and Commercial Affairs Committee. It is also opposed to Manohar’s plan to roll back changes brought in to favour the ‘Big Three’ under predecessor N Srinivasan in 2014. That would have given the lion’s share of revenue from ICC events to India, Australia and England.
With the two-tier proposal being shelved, the ICC’s controversial TV rights model will also be set aside for now.
Leading the opposition to the two-tier system, which would have really hurt lower-ranked sides like Bangladesh, will also enable the BCCI to maintain its influence in international cricket.
It remains to be seen how this proposal is reworked as there is a genuine concern that players are happy, instead of seeking a Test career, to chase a lucrative contract in a T20 league.
The BCCI is also upset with the ICC for giving the England board a whopping $135 million to cover expenses in the conduct of next year’s ICC Champions Trophy. There are reports of the Indian board threatening not to field the champions.
That could prove a financial disaster for the tournament.