One of the biggest shake-ups in cricket history could take place when the sport's global governing body convenes in Edinburgh on Monday. Radical plans for the creation of two divisions in Test cricket and a one-day international league will be on the agenda of the International Cricket Council's week-long annual meeting in the Scottish capital. Since Australia and England played the first Test in 1877, international matches have largely been matters for the two countries concerned and the same has generally been true of ODIs outside of tournaments such as the World Cup.
The ICC has introduced weighted Test rankings but the complicated formula has failed to capture the imagination of cricket fans and the wider sporting public. With many top players increasingly tempted by offers to play in domestic Twenty20 events such as the Indian Premier League, where they can earn more money in less time than by playing Tests, officials are keen to give the long-format game greater "context". This, they believe, would make it more attractive to broadcasters and so help generate greater revenues.
"We are looking at competition structures across all three formats (Tests, ODIs and Twenty20)," ICC chief executive David Richardson told AFP at the launch of the 2017 Champions Trophy earlier this month. "We want to find ways of playing slightly less cricket but more meaningful cricket. "Richardson is behind a scheme that would see the creation of seven teams in Division One and five, including two new Test nations, in Division Two. They would play in a league system where there was promotion and relegation. Each team in the top tier would play every other side home or away in a two-year cycle.
Matches and series would each be given a set number of points -- the exact figures are still to be decided – to determine the standings. At the end of the cycle, the bottom team would be relegated, with the team on top the new world Test champions. Series such as the Ashes could still take place even if England and Australia were in different divisions, as countries would be allowed to schedule extra matches.
Similar considerations are behind plans to introduce a 13-team ODI league which, as with the new Test structure would begin in 2019. The set-up could also see countries such as Ireland, long the leading Associate ICC nation, finally get a crack at Test cricket. Under the revised arrangements the 50-over Champions Trophy would be scrapped as the new league, which could act as a qualifier for the World Cup, would give ODIs all the 'context' they needed.
There are also proposals for the popular World Twenty20, won in April by the West Indies when they beat England in a thrilling last-over finish in Kolkata, to revert to being staged once every two years. According to a report by the ESPN Cricinfo website, this could raise an extra $400-500 million in every eight-year cycle. Such funds could help bankroll Test cricket, which can now struggles to attract spectators outside of major series such as the Ashes.
It is perhaps no coincidence that plans for the restructuring of Test cricket have gained greater impetus while Shashank Manohar has been ICC chairman. Two years ago, the ICC was restructured so that the sport's three biggest nations -- Australia, England and India -- were given an even greater grip on the game's finances and levers of power. Indeed the new set-up meant the 'Big Three' had more ICC revenue than the other 102 members combined. However, ever since Manohar replaced N Srinivasan as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and chairman of the ICC last year, there has been an unravelling of the 'Big Three' scheme.
Manohar insisted the ICC chairman be independent, rather than also serving as a national representative, and quit his BCCI post. "I don't agree with the three major countries' bullying the ICC," he said in November. "You cannot make the poor poorer and the rich richer, only because you have the clout. The ICC runs cricket throughout the world.