Tuesday 15 January 2013

A New Structure for International First Class Cricket?

An empty stadium - what this aims to avoid
The mauling of New Zealand by South Africa led to some people questioning why these teams should even be playing each other. "Surely New Zealand are just so bad that they should be in a second division" was the cry.

I personally don't think that this has merit. This series was particularly one sided. But it wasn't much different to Australia vs India last year. Or New Zealand vs Zimbabwe, the first two matches of Australia vs Sri Lanka, etc.

It also was less than twelve months ago that the same teams played out a 1-0 series over 3 matches. New Zealand were a worse team, without Southee, Ryder, Taylor and Vettori, and South Africa were better, on the back of a tour to Australia, and in familiar conditions.

The nature of test cricket, however, is that when teams are mismatched across the park, that the game can blow out quickly. Accordingly it is sensible to want teams to only play other teams of a similar ability.

It also seems ridiculous that the Kenyan team of the early 2000's never got to play a test, and yet the Zimbabwe team (who were vastly inferior) did. The path into test cricket is a political one, not a cricketing one, and that seems wrong.

However, there is a history to test cricket that is worth preserving. Records, like Don Bradman's 99.94 or Barnes' 49 wickets in a series, are part of the folklore of cricket, and while Barnes' record was against a particularly poor South African side, it is still more meaningful than if Ili Tugaga was to take 51 wickets in a 6 match series between Samoa and New Caledonia.

I've been thinking about this for a while, and I think have a possible solution that preserves the integrity of test matches, while allowing a path through for lower teams.

Firstly the top 16 teams in the world should broken up into divisions of 4 teams. However these should not be exclusive divisions. Test cricket should also be run on a 4 yearly basis. The first 3 years being the league phase and then the 4th year the championship year.

Teams in the top division would play a 5 match home and away series against each other every 3 years. This means one home series and one away series against a top opposition every year. They would also play 4 cross-over series against a second division team. These should be 3 match series, played either at home or away.

Teams in the second division would play a 4 match home and away series against each other every 3 years, as well as the 3 match cross over series against the top teams and also 2 match cross over series against the next tier of teams. These would all be considered test matches.

The third division teams would only have their matches against second division teams count as test matches. They would also play a 3 first class match series, home and away, against teams in their division, and also a 2 match first class series against teams from division 4.

Division 4 teams would play home and away series of first class matches against each other, the cross-over matches against division 3 teams and then also play matches against teams in their continental region.

This means that the major series (Ashes, Frank Worrell, D'Olivera etc) would still happen, but they would be every 4 years if there is a large difference between the team's playing abilities or twice every 4 years if the teams are both in the same division.

Here are some possible schedules for England, India and Afghanistan based on the current rankings on Idle Summers, (who I feel does a better job of test rankings than anyone else).

Year 1

England would tour South Africa for the D'Olivera Trophy (5 matches) and Sri Lanka (3 matches), and receive a visit from Australia for the Ashes (5 matches). They would end up playing 13 matches that year.

India would tour West Indies (4 matches) and Bangladesh (2 matches), and host New Zealand (4 matches) and South Africa (3 matches). A total of 13 matches in the year.

Afghanistan would tour Ireland (3 fc matches) and UAE (2 fc matches) and receive visits from New Zealand (2 tests) Bangladesh (2 tests) and Scotland (3 fc matches). They would play 4 tests and 8 first class matches.

Year 2

England would tour Pakistan and Australia (5 matches each) and host India and the West Indies for 3 matches each. They would play 16 matches that year

India would have a busy year, touring England (3 tests) and Sri Lanka (4 tests) and hosting West Indies (4 tests), Australia (3 tests) and Zimbabwe (2 tests). 16 matches in the year.

Afghanistan would tour West Indies for two tests, Bangladesh for 3 first class matches and Namibia for 2 first class matches. They would host Zimbabwe for 3 first class matches. 2 tests and 8 first class matches in the year.

Year 3

England would host Pakistan and South Africa for 5 tests each, and travel to New Zealand for 3 tests.

India would tour New Zealand (4 tests), Pakistan (3 tests) and Afghanistan (2 tests), and host Sri Lanka for 4 tests and Ireland for two. They would play a total of 15 tests in the year.

Afghanistan would host Ireland for 3 first class matches, Kenya for 2 first class matches and India for 2 tests. They would tour Zimbabwe (3 fc matches) and Sri Lanka (2 tests).

There may have to be games played outside of countries for matches that they are hosting. For example, teams may be unwilling to travel to Pakistan and Afghanistan due to safety concerns, so those matches might be scheduled in the UAE for Pakistan and Bangladesh for Afghanistan (for example). Matches that are unable to take place due to political reasons (ie if Fiji made the grade, NZ currently has a sporting boycott on matches in Fiji, and on Fijian sportsmen who have relatives in the military regime.) either a compromise could be worked out or the teams could split the points.

At the end of the cycle the top team in each division would be promoted, the bottom team relegated. The winner of the inter-continental cup would be promoted to division 4 in place of the team that was at the bottom of that division. The only exception would be that the winner of the world test championship would always be given a spot in the top 4, so if a team from outside there made it in, every other team would move down one position.

The ICC would have to fund teams in division 3, paying a proportion of their costs, and completely fund teams in division 4 for travel and accommodation. Television rights would cover the costs of teams in the top 2 divisions without any assistance.

While this format wouldn't eradicate sides getting destroyed, it might mean that it happens less often, and we would get more high quality cricket between those matches. It would also mean that there would be a level playing field for every team, and every player to succeed.


  1. the other thing I like about this is that it gives those 4 years of certainty. It gives clarity to things such as television rights and government funding. I also really like the idea of the championship - not only is it a way of seeing if that team from division 2 is actually better than that div 1 team, but it also gives a whole "off" year for scheduling and television rights negotiations. It also stops the knee jerk reactions, teams have time to work their way out of a hole, and one great season, if lucky enough to be timed with the championship year could still see a team bolt into the first division, a team that has had an amazing 3 years in division 3 could pull of an amazing feat and jump a whole division - who wouldn't want to see that? great idea - hope somebody with some power gets to read this.

  2. Mykuhl, I've seen a lot worse. It isn't how I'd do it, in that I'd prefer two years of free bilateral, and two years of championship (1 year qualifying, 1 year tiered competition). But the key issue is striking a compromise, because there are lot of aims. The bilateral series are important because no-way-how will Australia or England compromise on the Ashes, and rivalry series are valuable (sadly the Australia-New Zealand rivalry gets more and more neglected). Relegation and promotion has its challenges, mostly to do with finance; but also the rigidity with it entails, and the time it can take to be promoted if a team in a lower division has a golden period of say 4-5 years. Hence, my preference for a qualifying-championship model where any team can go on a run (in theory). The important thing is that the mismatches need to potentially mean something, even if they are one-sided, because context ameliorates a lack of competition. (I'm not sure if that is the case in your cross-over series, as they oughtn't count towards promotion/relegation?)

    On finance, the trouble is, a team needs to have India tour, and to a lesser extent England to afford their professional first-class systems. Australia is a partial exception. If matches are unequally distributed (actually matches are already unequally distributed, but bear with me) then either a) the money from TV rights need to be re-distributed, which the BCCI is strongly against or b) the TV rights need to be owned by the ICC who then shares money by merit/need. The latter is easier in a tournament setting, because they can own the branding, but again, a compromise whereby some tour rights are owned by the host, and some the ICC is necessary for any reform to work.

    On the issue of status. At some level it is all bollocks. Who cares what status a game has? Functionally, and in many ways, in quality, there is no difference between a 4-day Ireland-Scotland game and a Zimbabwe-Bangladesh one. There are also many many anomalies in the statistics regarding what matches have test status, and the unevenness of comparative records. The distinction is basically arbitrary, and there is no logical way of determining where it should be made. But as I said, it doesn't matter, except perhaps in the field of marketing, where being able to say "this is a test match" has more value than "this is a first-class international", which matters a lot more to the players and fans denied it, than the ones who have it.

    1. Hi Russ, thanks for such a well considered reply.

      You make a good point with the India/England tours and the finance. However as all teams would be playing India and England at least once every cycle, they would have at least one home series against them every 2 cycles. The loss in revenue should be made up for in the extra interest in their matches and the extra TV rights they will generate. (For example, there will be a much bigger Indian interest in the New Zealand v West Indies series if it potentially affects the chances of India being promoted to division 1.)

      I feel that the cross over games would definitely count towards promotion/relegation. Every match is important. If a division 2 team loses a series to Ireland, they need to be penalised for that, and likewise if they beat Australia, they need to be rewarded for it.

      I don't see that this would be a significant change to the current system for the Ashes. At the moment they are played twice every 5 years. Here if the teams are close they would be played twice every 4 years, and if they are not so close twice every 8 years. They could arrange a bi-lateral series in the championship year also (depending on the format of the test championship).

      I also think the status matters a lot to the players. The risk of losing test status, or having a significant reduction in test status (from being relegated to division 3) would be a significant issue for teams.

  3. I think that sounds like a good idea but would have 6 groups of 3 teams in a 3 year season before the world championships for the first year based on the current rankings these groups would look like

    1) South Africa, England, Pakistan
    2) Australia, England, Sri Lanka
    3) West Indies, New Zealand, Bangladesh
    4) Ireland, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan
    5) Scotland, Namibia, Kenya
    6) UAE, Netherlands, Canada

    Division 1 teams would play each other in a 5 match series with a 4 match series against a division 2 team

    Division 2 teams would play each other in a 4 match series with the series against the division 1 team

    Division 3 teams would play each other in a 3 match series and a 2 match series against a division 4 team

    Division 4 teams would play a 3 match FC series against each other and the test match against the division 3 team

    Division 5 teams would play a 2 match FC series against each other and a 1 match series against a division 6 team

    Division 6 teams would play a 1 match FC series against each other and the division 5 team

    This would lead to a schedule that looks like

    England: year 1 - South Africa year 2 - Pakistan year 3 - Australia
    Australia: year 1 - India year 2 - Sri Lanka year 3 - England
    West Indies: year 1 - New Zealand year 2 - Bangladesh year 3 - Ireland
    Ireland : year 1 - Zimbabwe year 2 - Afghanistan year 3 - West Indies
    Scotland: year 1 - Namibia year 2- Kenya year 3 - UAE
    UAE: year 1 - Netherlands year 2 - Canada year 3 - Scotland

    I think this is a good idea that you have had as it allows teams like Ireland who want test status the chance to earn it...then again that might just be me being greedy as an Irishman

    1. Division 2 England should be India

    2. The issue with this is that there is too much separation. Under this system, West Indies and New Zealand would never play Sri Lanka or Australia. Given that the recent tours of New Zealand to Sri Lanka and Australia have been draws, and the tour of Australia to West Indies was also close I'm not sure that that would be justified.