There are times in life when change is as seductive as a young Bridget Bardot walking out of a Victoria’s Secret store with a bag full of goodies.
You know those times. When the status quo is broken. When it is not doing what it says it will on the tin.
When a new world order is required.
But when the honey pot of change isn’t quite balanced by an objective deep dive into possible outcomes, you get results such as Brexit or Glenn Maxwell opening the batting in a Test match.
Speaking of Test matches, the ICC have decided that the system needs a little shake up. Well actually, a rather dramatic one.
Those that don’t believe that anything needs to change would be in the minority or named N Srinivasan. For Test cricket as it stands today has no context. Zero. Ziltch. Notta.
The ICC rankings system is flawed, there is no playoff or finals system, there is no obligation for any particular team to play any other particular team and there are 190 countries in the world that want to play the game yet are banned from doing so.
So yes, here is a fairly straight forward example of where change is warranted, necessary and long overdue.
The ICC are flirting with the idea of a two tier test system. Division 1 will have seven teams and Division 2 will have only five. This will bring two new test teams into the fold.
Extra teams are clearly a positive step. It is hard to come to any other sensible conclusion.
Building on this, another proposed reform is that the TV rights for the matches will be pooled, so that broadcasters cannot pick and choose the best flavours and leave the less sexy black jellybeans behind.
On the surface, this also appears to be a positive. It should equate to more Test cricket on television involving more teams and shown in more countries.
However, before you send out invites to your “Test Cricket Is Reborn” party, let’s scratch the surface of these proposals and attempt to break them. Just for fun. Because we can. Actually, because it appears that not many have and that scares the hell out of me.
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have slammed the proposal for a two tier Test system. Some suggest they see it as a threat. Others have climbed onto their soap boxes and screamed such accusations as these dissenters are selfish, are buried in self interest or that it is all about the money.
Why should these two minnows stop the growth of Test cricket? Shouldn’t they support changes that allow new teams to enter the system, just as the ICC did with both of them not too long ago?
But let’s explore the downside of the proposed two tier Test system.
The ICC will argue that a two tier system is the only way to introduce new entrants to Test cricket, while simultaneously creating a table structure that provides a fair draw.
But like Tony Blair’s decision to back George W Bush in Iraq, the assumptions behind it are wrong. A commendation should be given for the intent, however, the execution appears a little short sighted.
The Test cycle is a long one. If every team in a table needed to play everyone else home and away over say a three year period, then a 7 team grouping is about right. But what says that a competition needs to be this egalitarian?
Multiple examples exist where equality in the draw never happens including the AFL and the NFL. In fact, the draw has minimal impact on who ultimately ends up winning these sporting pursuits.
By splitting the Test arena into two tiers, by de-facto you have created a group of “have” and “have nots”. Commercial sponsorship and TV exposure will be directed towards tier 1 battles only. The pooled model for TV rights will ultimately achieve little in regards to extra exposure as the broadcasters will only show the good games and dump the lesser ones. The majority of sports fans couldn’t give a brass razoo about second string matches. Look at the EPL as an example. Who watches Accrington Stanley play Nottingham Forest? Why would cricket be any different?
The tier system also removes the ability for lesser nations to challenge the better teams.
For example, Afghanistan would be welcomed into the Test arena, but it unlikely that they would ever play an England, Australia or India. There would be no room in the schedule and no incentive to make it happen if they were in different tiers.
Although they could play as much as they liked against Zimbabwe, what does that really achieve? How does that grow the game in either country or expose their players to a wider cricket audience?
The fact is that the two tier system does little other than allow for two new Test teams to enter the fold, threatens struggling countries with relegation that then flows to reductions in local interest and funds, as well as keeping the status quo of Test schedules filled with the same old matches between the big three and the odd other team.
Test Cricket, under this model will undoubtedly recede.
No one cares about three year leagues with no climax. The big wide commercial world doesn’t care about second division matches.
The intent is to be commended. The execution is a disaster.
The best way to bring context and grow Test cricket may well be via a 12 team competition. But one with a finals system. One that has a climax. One where every team has a chance of winning it if they are good enough.
The draw can be done in a variety of ways.
Why not four conferences with three teams in each? Over a three year cycle, each team plays everyone in their conference home and away, plus four other series against teams from the other conferences. These could be drawn by lot at the start of the competition, or balanced in some way. After the three years, the top team from each conference make up a knockout finals series to be played in year four. This can be staggered to not clash with the ODI League finals or the ODI World Cup if it still exists.
The worst two teams in the competition based on an agreed method get relegated for the next best two teams. The current proposal that the bottom teams get to play some kind of survival match before they are dropped is simply ridiculous. This is the real example of self interest and protection of status quo.
Every match should matter. Every series should matter. Everyone has should have a chance. The lower teams will play the better teams. The pooled TV rights will be worth more as the context is higher. Cricket will grow.
There will be no “have” and “have nots”. The big teams are unlikely to ever be relegated out of the top 12. Smaller countries like The Netherlands or Ireland will get proper exposure, a share of a wider pool of funds and the best opportunity to grow a new generation of players and fans.
The winds of change of blowing through the halls of the ICC. The two tier Test proposal is flawed, if not a form of the establishment practicing national nepotism.
If we are going to uproot Test cricket, and we should, then let’s do it properly.