ICC to expand to 20 Test nations

The International Cricket Council is set on an irreversible path towards global expansion of the game while the captain of the world champion team and most of the leading players in the world, he says, are dead set against playing hopeless minnows who devalue the worth of the contest. So who will prevail?

Both will.

Dave Richardson is currently presiding over a debate for Test cricket to remain the exclusive preserve of the eight top nations in the world while international, first-class cricket – played over three and four days – will act as a feeder to the top league.

The radical but brilliant scheme would have 12 nations, in two divisions, contesting the right to compete for two or three years amongst the world’s best eight. Three Test series could be played between the top nations, home and away over a three year period – an average of 14 Tests per year. Room for negotiation would still exist between certain boards to play five Tests in a series where tradition demands, as in the Ashes, while two-Test series between nations would allow the cycle to be completed in just two years, also with 14 Tests per year.

The second division of nations would also play each other on a home and away basis over a series of four-day matches. The winner of the division would then play the eighth (bottom) team of the first division in a one-off challenge for the right to compete amongst the elite. Imagine the thrill of that – Kenya playing the West Indies for the right to play Australia, South Africa, England, India etc…

A third division would also be created to cater for the most ambitious and structured of the smallest nations, like the United Arab Emirates and Ireland. Promotion and relegation between the third and second divisions would be automatic and in all divisions a one-day competition would run concurrently.

Zimbabwe’s current woes both on and off the playing field mean they are as ripe for the second division as Bangladesh, who would benefit massively from the opportunity to genuinely compete and even win a couple of games.

Amongst the many problems facing the expansion of the game is lack of ambition, and most small nations lack ambition because the highest levels of the sport are an exclusive, ‘by invitation only’ club. It doesn’t matter how good you are, there’s no way in. So what’s the point?

Let’s say, for example, that the Sultan of Brunei decided to invest a couple of trillion dollars in cricket rather than the US$50,000 he paid Brian Lara a couple of years ago to coach his son for two days. A structured system like the one being proposed would give him a clear sight of the target. Win the ICC’s intercontinental Cup, gain admission to the third division, win promotion to the second division and then beat the West Indies. Then play at Lord’s.

It is a brilliant proposal. No more meandering, dawdling contests that lack meaning and ‘bite’. It will take superhuman powers of persuasion to get Bangladesh and Zimbabwe to buy into the concept. Alternatively, it will take courageous leadership from the ICC to make it happen. The game needs a bit of good news at the moment. If this happens, it could be the most exciting innovation since batsmen stopped wearing jackets at the crease and started using straight bats.

Possible Divisions:

One: Australia, South Africa, India, England, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies.
Two: Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia, Holland, Scotland.
Three: Canada, USA, UAE, Nepal, Ireland, Ireland/Malaysia.

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