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ICC mulling baseball-like conference split system for Test cricket

Radical structural change could culminate in Test Championship playoff

Team India
Indian players with the ICC Test mace following their 3-0 victory over New Zealand

With the proposed two-tier Test system not shaping into a concrete development, the International Cricket Council (ICC) are reportedly planning a conference-based division for the game’s traditional format a la baseball style.

The new structure, if it materializes, has the potential to add additional context to Test cricket with a proper championship playoff serving as the culmination of a more balanced fixture list. At the recently held ICC chief executives' committee (CEC) meeting in Cape Town, the idea is understood to have been deliberated in detail and should include the likes of Ireland and Afghanistan as well.

Major League Baseball (MLB), the US-based tournament, sees the participating teams divided into three conferences – East, Central and West. Every side plays as many as 19 games with its fellow divisional members on a home and away basis. There are 10 playoff spots available at the end of each season with four rounds of games determining the overall champion.

On a similar vein, the conference system should see the 12 Test teams divided into two groups based on the ICC rankings. The alternately ranked sides will be split up into separate divisions with the six nations in each group playing each other during at least one bilateral series over the 2-year period. However, there is also the likelihood of quite a few crossover series between teams across the two groups as it happens in MLB.

The number one side from each conference will compete for the Test Championship playoff. More importantly, in order to promote homogeneity in the system, the conferences will be reorganized for every edition meaning that all the 12 Test countries would play against each other at least once every six years. However, there could be question marks surrounding marquee series such as Ashes and Border-Gavaskar trophy.

“While they're icon (sic) and big series, it's just not quite the same. There's also a feeling we're playing enough cricket. We don't want to play more cricket”, ESPNCricinfo quoted a source privy to the meetings. With the fears of dismissing the lower ranked Test teams to an inferior division now completely removed, the full members are expected to respond favorably.

But, another issue which could come in the way will pertain to the number of Tests played in a series. Since the marquee affairs between the top sides generally comprise of four or five matches, the prevalence of a lesser amount of games for some of the other sides may complicate the distribution of points.

The source revealed, “If there's 30 points available for a series and you play a five-match series, you might get six points a match, and if it is a two-match series it might be 15 points a match. That sort of thing needs to be further explored.”

Regarding the limited-overs formats, a league system aimed towards the ICC events remains on the table. Aside from the revamp of television rights, there is also talk regarding cricket’s entry into the Olympics with a meeting between BCCI and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) expected to hold the key for such a development.

The far-reaching changes to the sport’s structure should be brought into the limelight during the ICC meetings in February.

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