After nearly two years of trying, cricket is on the verge of pushing through a new international structure. A number of models have been discussed and discarded in that time but over the course of 2017, barring a few wrinkles, the member countries have come upon a model they are happy with.
The 9+3 Test league and 13-team ODI league were all but finalised earlier this year. In Auckland next month, the calendar above (graphic) should be put up for ICC Board approval.
Remind me how it works?
A four-year cycle has been broken up into windows for Tests, ODIs and T20Is. The graphic above is self-explanatory: slots have been set aside for ICC events, such as the World Cup, the World T20 and now, a Test finale; they also exist for Test and ODIs leagues, as well as regional qualification events for T20Is. The calendar starts from August 2019.
So there's a Test league? Yes, one that will be played by the top nine sides and will run in two-year blocks. In that time, each side will play six series, with two at home one year and two away the next (members have negotiated these themselves, as they did in previous FTPs). At the end of it, a one-off Test final will be held between the two sides that finished top. As of now, that final is likely to be held in mid-2021, probably at a neutral venue, and, by the sounds of it, in England.
Wow, a full-blown, proper league finally… Not quite. Not everyone will play each other over the two-year block, as any fair and competitive league aims for. For one, India and Pakistan will be unlikely to play each other at all.
Boo. What about ODIs and T20Is? ODIs will now be played in a 13-team league format, again over two years. The prize at the end of it will be qualification for the World Cup. Each side will play eight out of 12 sides over two years. Because of the congested nature of the current FTP and some commitments that stretch into 2020, the ODI league will begin in May that year.
The T20I calendar will be shaped mostly by bilateral commitments. But between January and August 2021, there will be a regional qualification event in each of the five ICC regions. Eventually, sides from these will qualify through to the World T20.
Points? Yes, there will be. Most likely in the Test league, a formula will be worked out where sides will get points for series results first, and matches second. That is because the number of series - rather than matches - for all sides is the same in a two-year block. A minimum of two Tests constitutes a series. In case of a draw in the final, the side ranked top in the league stages will win.
Did you forget about the +3? As it stands, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Ireland are the three teams who will not be part of the Test league. Instead, the nine will have to find time within their schedules to play against the three.
The most likely way of that happening is actually during Full Member tours. For example, teams visiting England, South Africa or the UAE (to play Pakistan) can arrange one-off Tests against Ireland, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan respectively instead of warm-up games. They are also looking at the prospect of four-day Tests against these countries. There will be a pathway for them to move up.
Please tell me the age of the pointless, unending bilateral ODI series is over. Bad news we're afraid. Though there will not be as many in number, members have created an eight-month window from May 2022 to January 2023 in which they are free to schedule whatever bilateral ODI series they wish to. That is a run-up period to the 2023 World Cup, although those ODIs will not be part of the league qualification campaign for the tournament.
And the elephant in the room is… Domestic T20 leagues. Nearly every month of the year is occupied by one big T20 league or another, all vying for the services of international cricketers. How to fit those into this calendar?
That has been the other obstacle members have come across in devising this new calendar. For Australia and England, who arrange their T20 events alongside their international calendar, this is not a problem; neither India, for whom the IPL has not really disrupted a traditional home season. The biggest problems have been for the PCB and CSA, whose PSL and GLT20 run right during a home season. And because their leagues consist of privately-owned franchises (unlike Australia and England), their star players have to appear for the franchises.