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    December 11, 2009

    Re-structuring the ICC Future Tours Programme

    The ICC's President, David Morgan, has revealed that the Future Tours Programme (FTP) planned for the period 2012-2020 will relax restrictions around the concept. Teams do not need to play each other home and away over a six year cycle as is the case currently.

    What is interesting though is that the current version of the FTP only spans 6 years, and was drawn up in 2006. I find it bizarre that the ICC will be coming out with an 8 year schedule (2012-2020) at a time when a lot of folks, including administrators and players, don't even know what's around the corner 2 years from now. In the last couple of years, cricket has gone through so much change with the advent of private leagues, IPL, Champions T20 league, questions over the relevance of ODIs and tests, etc.

    Then again, I'd be stupid if I expected the ICC to actually make any sort of sense.

    A two-tiered structure for test cricket, in the form of a test championship, seems a natural solution to rationalize player workload and have better more even contests. Sangakkara has every right to feel aggrieved that Sri Lanka was not included in the ICC's discussions over a 2-tier system. But, does a 2-tier structure mean that a team is shut out from the top tier forever? Of course not.

    A 2-tier system does bring with it some uncertainty over whether a team being demoted to the lower tier could mean loss of spectatorship / TV audiences. I'm fairly sure that boards who are opposed to a 2-tier system are mainly concerned about the worth of their TV (& other media) rights if there's no guarantee that their team will play in the top tier instead of battling it out for the wooden spoon. There's no doubt that money from media rights finances the game. So it would be stupid to take on those who pay up the cash!

    Yet, if the cycle lasted say 3 years instead of a promotion & relegation every year, TV rights owners have some amount of ability to predict who will play whom where and when. This could mean they are far more likely to dish out the cash than if teams were promoted & relegated every year. The other reason, which I wrote about 5.5 years ago, why an annual promotion / relegation should not be used is to avoid a situation where a team like (say) Ireland just happens to top the 2nd tier in one year, gets promoted to the top tier and gets thrashed by all and sundry.

    Assume there are a total of 12 teams - Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, Ireland, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe (it is likely that at some point of time, if the West Indies 'splits' and individual island countries compete by themselves, we will need a 3-tier system). There would be 2 tiers of 6 teams each (Based on the current rankings, it would look like - Tier-1: India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Australia, England & Pakistan; Tier-2: New Zealand, West Indies, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland & Kenya).

    Only test matches played within the tiers would count for any points. If teams that played for test trophies (Australia-England, England-South Africa, Sri Lanka-Australia, India-Australia, Australia-West Indies etc.) ended up in different tiers, they could still play their 'marquee' series. But the result of the tests and series wouldn't count in the ICC test championship points system. Boards would of course need to remember that if players got burnt out playing the marquee series, then their team's prospects in the test championship could be impacted.

    If each team had to play all the other teams in the same tier in test series (of 3 tests each - not more, not less) home and once away, they'd need to play a total of 30 tests (15 home & 15 away) over a 3 year period. That's not much. In the 3 years spanning 2006, 2007 and 2008, 7 of the 9 test teams played more than 24 tests.

    The points structure could be fairly simple (10 for a test win, 5 for a draw, 0 for a loss, with bonus points for winning by an innings or anything more than 7 wickets) and also factor in the series result as well as whether the it was a home or away fixture and adjust the weightage accordingly.

    There would be no concept of 'Super Eight', 'Super Six', knock-out games or a grand final. At the end of the 3 year window, the team with the most points would be declared the winner of that particular tier. The team that ended up last in the 1st tier would swap places with the team that topped the 2nd tier. In case of a tie, number of series wins away, number of test wins away, points from away wins, etc. would be used to determine who should be ranked higher.

    There would also be individual awards for bowling, batting and fielding.

    In fact, this sort of 2-tiered structure with equal matches for all would satisfy the demands from the likes of Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies, Pakistan, etc. who claim that a 2-tier system would not benefit them.

    For the boards, the TV revenue from 'marquee' series is a much bigger factor. So how do they reconcile themselves to it? Perhaps with the knowledge that if they manage their players well, create a large enough pool to pick from and create sane schedules, their best players would still be available for the marquee series.

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    Thus spake Jagadish @ 12:33 AM |
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