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ICC weighing up two division system for Test cricket

International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive David Richardson has said a two-division league system could be introduced into Test cricket as soon as 2019 as the global governing body continues to wrestle with the subject of ensuring the historic format retains its place as the pinnacle of the sport.

Richardson has revealed the ICC hopes to detail plans for the introduction of two divisions, along with potentially the addition of new Test-playing nations, within the next few weeks. “There's a general realisation now that, if we're going to keep Test cricket going well into the future, we can't just say it's going to survive on its own,” Richardson said, according to the ESPNCricinfo website. “Unless we can give some meaning to these series beyond the rankings and a trophy, then interest in Test cricket will continue to waver. The same applies if we allow uncompetitive Test cricket to take place too often.

“If we really want Test cricket to survive, we can't have the number of Test teams diminishing. We have to create a proper competition structure which provides promotion and relegation and opportunities to get to the top. A number of member countries are finding that they're not getting as much from their TV rights for bilateral cricket and they see the need to change and introduce some meaningful context.”

Richardson in January said the ICC would make the establishment of a formal competition for the Test format one of its main priorities this year. Cricket’s stakeholders have long deliberated over the need for an equivalent to the World Cup competitions held in the 50-over one-day international (ODI) and 20-over Twenty20 disciplines, with their most recent efforts to form such an event collapsing in 2014.

In 2013, the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship (WTC) was proposed to take place in England in June/July 2017, with India potentially staging the next tournament in 2021. The WTC was envisioned to provide a four-year window to determine a true No.1 team and offer added incentive to the Test series leading up to the main event itself, while bolstering the position of cricket’s most historic format in the face of ODIs and T20s.

The ICC ultimately conceded defeat on this vision in February 2014, stating it “proved impossible” to come up with a format for a four-team finals event that fitted the culture of Test cricket and preserved the integrity of the format.

Proposed plans for a new league structure include the introduction of a top division of seven teams and a second division of five teams, with one team promoted and relegated in each two-year cycle. This could potentially lead to Test status for the likes of Nepal, Ireland and Afghanistan.

Richardson said: “We could probably make it work in 2019 because hopefully whatever we implement will be better than the current arrangement. It's the sooner the better as far as we're concerned. We might need to have some negotiations with broadcasters who have deals in place, but they might be willing to change. This is a marvellous opportunity for the game.”

Meanwhile, Richardson confirmed the intention to add an extra World Twenty20 tournament in 2018. The ICC is said to have been holding talks with its global broadcast partner, pan-Asian pay-television broadcaster Star Sports, over the potential staging of extra editions of the tournament, which was last held in India earlier this year.

The World T20 is currently played on a quadrennial basis, but the ICC is believed to be considering adopting a new structure, under which the tournament would be played every two years. “We're having discussions now with broadcasters about having a second World T20 in a four-year cycle,” Richardson said. “If they agree – and the board agrees – it would be in 2018 and the venue needs to be decided. The broadcasting agreement says we can't hold another event without them agreeing to it. So they will have a say in where the event will be held.

“The broadcasters obviously want the matches to be played at times which are good for the broadcast market in India. But it probably won't be India as we've just been there. And the timing issue rules out West Indies, Australia and New Zealand. We're currently unable to play in Pakistan, so that leaves Sri Lanka, South Africa or the UAE as the only options probably. It is too early for America.”