ICC confirms new cricket test championship, trial of four-day tests
A new dawn for international cricket has been confirmed but ICC chief executive Dave Richardson has no doubt that more still needs to be done if the test format is to survive.
Following the ICC board meeting in Auckland on Friday, Richardson announced a new test championship (from 2020) and one-day international league (from 2020).
In doing so, the former South African wicketkeeper also revealed that four-day test cricket would be explored on a trial basis up until the 2019 World Cup, with the first try-out set to take place between South Africa and Zimbabwe in Port Elizabeth on Boxing Day.
Led by England and with high-level backing from New Zealanders Sir Richard Hadlee and Shane Bond in recent weeks, the push for four-day matches is seen as a way to revive interest in countries where the five-day game is dying.
Richardson admitted that there remained widespread scepticism, among players and administrators alike, as to whether four-day tests were the way forward.
But he said there was universal approval from the ICC board to push ahead with trials as they seek to preserve the purist form of the game.
"Our priority has been to develop an international structure that gives context and meaning across all three formats, in particular test series. But we still have to acknowledge that there is a question around the the sustainability of test cricket.
"Is four-day cricket going to provide a better product, one that more people will be interested in? Who knows, but unless we trial it we'll never know.
"Similar to the way we've conducted day-night test matches with the pink ball and using technology, we're going to do the same now with [four-day matches]."
The playing conditions still need to be finalised by the ICC cricket committee but they are likely to be similar to the first-class format, with six-and-a-half hour days consisting of 98 overs.
It is hoped four-day tests will reduce costs and lead to more opportunities for developing nations while, ultimately, creating a more attacking brand of cricket.
"Moving to for-day tests will inevitably change the way captains approach the game," Richardson said. "They may need to declare their first innings earlier than they might to make sure they have enough time to win the game. In the end I think it might produce more attacking cricket than before. This is what we want to find out."
New Zealand Cricket welcomed the introduction of the test and ODI leagues, although chairman Greg Barclay said they were "ambivalent" on the four-day experiment.
Barclay said their priority is the continuation of five-day tests and they have no plans for any trial matches at this stage.
"There are a number of countries that probably lend themselves to four-day cricket for a variety of reasons ... so it will be interesting to see how the trial goes," Barclay said.
"From our point of view, we will keep an open mind. We are certainly not opposed to it but at the moment we continue to support the status quo."
Friday's announcement was the culmination of two years work and Richardson made no secret of his relief to see it finally across the line.
The test championship will see nine teams play six series over two years – three home and three away.
Bilateral series will be contested over a minimum of two matches and a maximum of five, with points to be allocated for every series and the top two teams meeting in a one-off final.
The 13-nation ODI league, meanwhile, will operate between World Cups and also be used to determine which teams qualify for the showpiece 50-overs tournament every four years.
The goal is to provide context and meaning around every test and ODI series as the longest format struggles for relevance, crowds and broadcasting revenue.
"This is a significant point in time for ICC members and our collective desire to secure a vibrant future for international bilateral cricket," Richardson said. "The approval of both leagues is the conclusion of two years of work from the members who have explored a whole range of options to bring context to every game."
The ICC board will now set about finalising a playing schedule for the opening edition as well as the points system and competition terms.
AT A GLANCE