ICC World Test Championship
Dave Richardson did something pretty extraordinary this week. The chief executive of cricket’s governing body, the ICC, virtually admitted that the Test game could not survive in its present sickly state.
Some might imagine this was a damning indictment of those who have presided over the sport in recent years. But if Richardson – one of those very individuals – was feeling contrite about the situation, he kept it well concealed while unveiling a raft of suggestions which sounded as if they had been scribbled down on the back of a fag packet 10 minutes before he spoke to the media.
In essence, it seems the ICC is pressing ahead with plans for a two-tier global structure, with promotion and relegation, and the introduction of new Test countries as early as 2019. The panjandrums’ preferred option is for a top division of seven teams and a second division of five.
At first glance, this sounds a progressive development, one which could transform the Associate circuit, and yet Richardson’s statement was littered with contradictions and far more questions than answers.
One moment, he was admitting that the current format isn’t fit for purpose by conceding “Zimbabwe hardly play and West Indies are focusing more on T20”, as if these were new phenomena.
Then, in the next breath, he stated: “Countries that you never thought would have ambitions to play multi-day cricket actually have got the potential. Countries like Nepal, Afghanistan and Ireland, but they’re not getting any opportunities.”
Perhaps Richardson has been living in a cave for the last five years. Only that could explain why he appears surprised that the Irish should be seeking entry to the Test sphere, given the admirable fashion in which their chief executive, Warren Deutrom, has banged the drum for their cause on so many occasions.
But there again, the ICC strategy is all over the place. If they really think that Ireland, Afghanistan, Nepal or yes, Scotland, could create the professional infrastructure, on and off the pitch, to commit to staging five-day Tests in the space of three years, they clearly haven’t been paying attention to the problems suffered by Bangladesh after they joined the Full Members back in 2000.
And, in any case, why do they reckon establishing more Test sides will attract a bigger worldwide audience? At the moment, I would argue there are only five quality teams in Tests – England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India – and you could argue even the latter scarcely deserve to sup at the top table on the evidence of recent visits abroad.
Richardson harped on about how cricket needed “meaning and context”, but if players and spectators are only interested in ODIs and T20s, will they really care whether there are one or two divisions? It’s obvious Sri Lanka have gone backwards of late and West Indies more closely resemble a group of travelling cavaliers for hire than the once-rampant global force of the 1980s. Pakistan, meanwhile, can’t host tours in their homeland, and the same applies to Zimbabwe.
If the ICC was genuinely serious about transforming the situation, it would be laying the foundations for Full Member A sides to take on the best Associate nations during the next five years rather than flinging the Irish, Afghans and their counterparts into battle with the West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. (If we work according to the present Test standings).
It would also help if Richardson and his colleagues recognised that cricket needs more T20 tournaments the way the Olympics needs another drugs scandal. Yet their CEO is determined to organise the next World T20 event, featuring “at least 16” participants as early as 2018.
Apparently, he also now accepts: “If we really want Test cricket to survive, we can’t have the number of teams diminishing.” This, of course, is coming from the same person who can’t comprehend why so many people are angry about the reduction of sides at the 2019 World Cup.
The ICC’s proposals lack clarity, coherence, even consistency and they don’t spell out any logical pathway which would offer succour to the Associates, beyond vague promises of jam tomorrow. But ask yourself this: If all-conquering England find themselves with a stadium which is 75% empty, as we witnessed in Durham on Day 1 last Friday, what hope is there for the new kids on the block?
One final note: Richardson’s failure to mention Scotland wasn’t especially surprising, considering the failure of Grant Bradburn’s personnel to win a single match at last year’s World Cup. Yet, surely the Scots have achieved more than Nepal in recent years?
As I said, the ICC’s supposed grand design sounds more like policy devised on the hoof.
Nothing new there!