A look at the proposed two-tier Test system and what it would mean for Bangladesh
Cricket is undergoing a bit of revolution. Not under the lights of the glamorous stadiums that are filled to the rafters during T20 games, not in the record books, where players are writing their way into history, not in the headlines that cricketers have gotten used to dominating, but in the boardrooms and the meetings, in hushed whispers and huddled discussions, in the chamber of the governing body of the sport, the International Cricket Council.
The ICC aren’t blind, nor have they turned a blind eye to the plight of cricket’s most holy, sacred, heralded, respected format - Test cricket. Barring the Ashes and a few matches here and there, Test matches paint a sorry sight with empty stands. Some of the best players in the world and playing out of their skin, batting diligently against bowlers that are determined to knock their stumps over, fielders, stretching every limb to save each run, bowlers, are running in ball after ball, never tiring as they try to outwit the player with the bat in his hands 22 yards away, to empty stands. It’s a sad sight really.
The past decade has seen the birth of a new baby - T20 cricket, packed with all the glamour, big sixes, high-octane action that millennials demand. Corporate honchos are sitting in their offices, pouring money into this 4 hour express-paced contest that is littered with opportunity, with each moment in the game having the capability to be sold. In comparison, Test cricket is suffering, its slow-paced nature that grows on you as a drug, almost belonging to a previous time period, a previous era, where it enjoyed its time in the sun.
The two-tier system
There had to be a change. And thus it came. At an event to promote the 2017 Champions Trophy, ICC’s chief executive Keith Richardson had dropped a bomb. He expressed that the governing body have been considering to remodel the existing Test match setup with a view to provide ‘meaning and context’ to Test cricket. This model, due to be implemented in 2019 would involve scrapping the existing setup, of simple bilateral series played between nations for ranking points and trophies and introducing, a new two-tier system coupled with the opportunity of promotion for the teams in the second division and the ignominy of relegation for teams in the first division. The current setup is pretty clear, there are 10 nations that have been awarded Test status. These are: (In order of ranking) Australia, India, Pakistan, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe.
The new system would see two clear-cut divisions. Division 1 comprising of the 7 top ranked teams and division 2 comprising of mostly 5 nations that would include teams ranked 8, 9 & 10 currently in the world and 2 more nations that would be announced later. Ireland, Nepal & Afghanistan have all been touted as potential options. While the ICC would still have to finalise the details, it’s highly likely that the above stated system would be followed. Teams would play each other in a two-year cycle that would see 1 team promoted and one relegated. There is also the possibility of another team being promoted if the ICC decides on including a playoff match between the team ranked 9th in division 1 and ranked 2nd in division 2.
"The beauty of leagues is that, in theory, you will have a more competitive competition and teams playing each other that are of a more equal standard. They will all be striving for something. There's something at stake. They will be thinking 'We could end up in the Intercontinental Cup if we're not careful here.' Hopefully that will inspire performance and make the matches more competitive.” Richardson was quoted as saying.
ICC hope to have a perfect harmony of the three formats of the game. There are currently a total of 105 members of the ICC and as many countries as possible should be playing T20s. A lower number, about 1/3rd should be playing ODIs and the top 15 - 18 should be playing Tests, which should retain its status as the premier format of the game.
Why are Bangladesh opposed to this?
One look at the current ICC rankings for Test teams should give us the most obvious reason as to why the Bangladesh Cricket Board are against a move to this two-tier system. Sitting in 9th place currently, it would mean that Bangladesh won’t be part of the upper echelons of the game and will automatically be playing in the 2nd division, where they will have to strive hard again to make it to division 1. It is worth noting that Bangladesh only gained Test status in 2000 after a lengthy struggle with the Sri Lanka Cricket board lobbying for them. Interestingly, Sri Lanka, ranked 6th in the world, have also expressed their opposition to such a move.
Bangladesh Cricket Board President Nazmul Hassan has strongly opposed the move and conveyed his feelings during ICC’s annual conference, held in Edinburgh towards the end of June. He adds that while it doesn’t matter who votes in favour or against the move, the implementation of such a change will cause a huge headache.
Further, the BCB Vice President Mahbubul Anam lent his voice to the matter as well, stating that he fears for the future of the game in Bangladesh if the move goes through. Anam states that Bangaldesh cricket has grown leaps and bounds in the ODI format of the game, because they have had a chance to play against the best countries. When they were awarded Test status, they received a harsh lesson as they struggled to cope with the quality initially. A demotion to a lower division would only be a step backwards for Bangladesh, he believes.
"It is the ICC's responsibility to globalise the game and not create a special class. Other sports are spreading while cricket is becoming limited. I don't think this should be the target of a global organisation." Mahbubul Anam said.