The Banglasesh-Zimbabwe Test series produced good, fighting cricket, but what did it really count for?
We now have a simple, easy to understand ranking system. The system would also reward attacking cricket; with only one point in a draw, there is no benefit in preparing flat tracks. It would also add context to series like Bangladesh against Zimbabwe, where good, sometimes thrilling cricket was played out for the bottom places in the rankings. How would it do that? With relegation.
Not straight relegation, but a system where the top team from the Intercontinental Cup gets a three-match play-off series, on home turf if possible, against the last place finisher in the WTC. These three matches would have Test status and would run concurrently with the WTC Finals. The WTC Finals would involve the top four teams, playing semi-finals and a final to decide the World Test Champions. This would all happen over a four-year cycle.
In the lower reaches, the Intercontinental Cup would have nine teams, who each play each other once in a four-day first-class match. They would end up playing eight first-class fixtures, although they are perfectly entitled to arrange more cricket for themselves outside the program.
Ideally, the bottom side from the Intercontinental Cup would be relegated into the Intercontinental Shield, which would be an eight-team knockout tournament on neutral turf, such as the UAE. This last level would be most problematic, as there is a slight shortage of high-quality international teams, but if it was for the eight highest placed teams on the WCL ladder not in the Intercontinental Cup, that would make sense.
India and Sri Lanka seem to feature in about a million bilateral ODIs. They are not alone.
Whether or not Shane Warne's idea is the answer or not, the ICC desperately need to pick one format and run with it. Stop tinkering. That applies both to the World Cup and the format itself. The World Cup has not remained unchanged since the second edition way back in 1979. It is set to shift to move to a ten-team tournament by 2019, with a qualifying system that excludes Associates quite comprehensively. The ICC will point out that it is more meritocratic and will produce a higher standard of cricket. I frankly do not care. I don't want to see the Netherlands, Scotland, Afghanistan and the rest all shut out of playing in the World Cup. Where would we see upsets, giant-killings? If Ireland get Test status, then that means that one of the Full Members would also miss out on the World Cup. Guaranteed. As I've said previously, the ICC has forgotten one of the two words in the tournament's name, and it isn't "Cup".
My final issue is with the lack of context for ODI cricket. Sri Lanka, in the last two years, have played 56 ODIs. That's more than double the total played by South Africa, New Zealand, Zimbabwe or Bangladesh. What is the point? Who actually cares about all these series, and why do they have to be five and seven matches long? Surely a more intense, condensed series, like the Champions Trophy, like the Asia Cup, but also like the three-game series that often go to the wire, would benefit the game more?
I really do love the World Twenty20 though.
What I don't love so much are the Twenty20 rankings. They are at best transient and at worst inaccurate. When Bangladesh beat Ireland (or rather, edged past by the skin of their teeth) in three Twenty20s last year, they shot up the rankings. For edging past Ireland. While Ireland are a good side, beating them doesn't entitle you to a top-five berth in the rankings. Especially when you move on through Europe and collect two defeats from the Associates there. At the end of the day, winning the biennial World Twenty20 must enough for a team to say that they are the World Champions? Who needs rankings?
For the most part, domestic cricket should remain untouched.
I would also like to see more Associate nations being included in the domestic structures of the Full Members. Namibia have been included in the Provincial Series, but they are the exception, not the rule. Canada have been elbowed out of the West Indian season, and the Netherlands and Scotland are to bid farewell to county cricket at the end of this season, too. I think the following changes might be in order:
- Include Nepal in the Ranji Trophy. It would also make for a split into four regional groups of seven teams, which is good for the knockout stages at the end of the tournament.
- If the Netherlands and Scotland can't find a place in county cricket, hopefully they will find a home in the Interpros. This would make for a five-team structure, too, which would benefit the Irish teams.
- Kenya could be included in the Logan Cup and other Zimbabwean competitions.
- Canada could be the eight team in the Regional Super50 in the West Indies.
- Afghanistan to play in the Pakistani competitions. I believe this one is already set to happen.
Smaller teams could also find their way into smaller competitions. Denmark for the Minor Counties, perhaps, or PNG for the Futures League.
My final idea for domestic cricket, which I think would benefit the game as a whole, would be the creation of Premier League licences. This way, cricket boards have to apply for a Premier League licence to run a Twenty20 franchise competition. This would mean that Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and the West Indies would all need Premier League licences, as would Australia and (possibly) Zimbabwe for their competitions. A Premier League licence would mean:
- That the league has a one-month window in which to organise its matches.
- No other Premier Leagues will run in this one month window.
- The league must comply to stringent, independent, anti-corruption inspections every season.
Twenty20 competitions like the old Caribbean T20, the Friends Life T20, HRV Cup and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy would not need Premier League licences, which would mean that they could run whenever they like in the year, but could also end up clashing with a Premier League. As a result, it would be sensible for some of these competitions to get Licences as well. International, first-class and List A cricket would all carry on as normal through the window.
Pretty much all of the ideas here are aimed towards two goals: to make cricket fairer and more appealing.
These ideas are wide-ranging, and pretty much all unlikely to happen. Money is a stumbling block that many of them would not overcome. However, if they did, then they would all help to create a cricketing environment where it is possible to progress from the very bottom to the very top, and where the spectator get full value for money. All cricket would have some kind of context, and, I believe, cricket as a whole would be healthier for it.