The aftermath of two-tiers and a twelve team Test Championship
Russell Degnan

The two-tier test structure is no more. It may merely be resting, as a plan for tiered leagues has been a recurring theme for more than a decade, but its nearly inevitable failure could easily be foreseen.

There have been several fine post-mortems, notably Sharda Ugra's discussion of TV rights and the forthcoming plan to pool them between some nations. This sort of plan can occur independently of the ICC, and even the BCCI, as could some form of bilateral championship that nations sign on to - a sort-of parallel with the absence of England from the first three FIFA World Cups. That's a sensible and financially sound plan which could lay the ground-work for better competition structures - one of the key points I made three years ago when discussing why tiered test leagues are unlikely to succeed.

Leaving aside the financial considerations, there is a significant power-tussle at play in introducing collective bargaining. The BCCI derives most of its power at board level from their ability to offer lucrative tours to other full members, so pooling that money negates any ability they have to horse-trade. Lorgat's influence at CSA is being felt in this type of proposal and it is a significant move to negate BCCI influence. Whether the BCCI is willing to blackball any member of the collective - effectively splitting cricket - in order to preserve that power remains to be seen. The BCCI have lost much of the trust they built up as a counter-weight to Australia and England under Dalmiya - not least in their brinkmanship with the West Indies and South Africa, and their naked greed under Srinivasan. Their protection of the weaker full members in this most recent episode only produced an alliance of four votes (sufficient, but fragile), and a better plan could easily be enough to carry out the reforms the CA-ECB-CSA-NZ bloc is aiming to introduce.

That the previous attempt failed was in large part because the ICC is a poor consultant. Most ICC members derive the majority of their income from either ICC dividends or the rights to India tours. There is little value for them in sidelining the weaker nations because they don't make much money regardless of who they play. CA and the ECB, by contrast, derive the majority of their income from local TV rights, and both Channel Nine and Sky have been actively seeking to avoid the sort of mismatches that the West Indies have recently provided (and that Bangladesh and Zimbabwe would, were they to play them).

The smaller full members have no reason to trust either CA or the ECB, nor their motives. But the biggest failure to communicate lay in their misunderstanding of the cultural importance of status to the boards that have it. Absence the prestige of being a full member, there was little reason for Zimbabwe and Bangladesh to reject the proposal. Between them, in the past four years, they have played only sixteen Test matches against opposition outside the top-7; the inclusion of competitive associate opponents, and a more structured competition that offered them an opportunity for promotion, would have offered some benefit, if somewhat marginal.

Sixteen matches is not zero, however, even with the (somewhat dubious) potential of an offer to play a bilateral series in the remaining gaps. Moreover, there is a significant symbolic difference between being a top-tier member and second-tier one. As SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala stated: "We believe that if you are a Full Member, there can't be two tiers." While the ICC often presses of the importance of a meritocratic system, meritocracy - the idea that every nation the opportunity to progress upwards - is also rooted in exclusion: that if someone is not good enough they should receive nothing. While it is sensible both commercially and competitively to have elite teams play each other more regularly, there ought to be an expectation of inclusiveness in a competition, where the elite prove themselves first.

Nor is this unusual. The FIFA World Cup is restricted to 32 elite teams, but qualifying is extended to more than two hundred. Similarly, the English Premier League offers parallel cup competitions where some 58 fixtures were scheduled between EPL clubs and those in the leagues below in 2015/16. Neither the relative smallness of that number, nor that most clubs must pass several rounds before getting that opportunity negates the central point: that even a meritocratic system can offer inclusivity and immediate opportunity to all its competitors.

It is in that context that I put forward a proposal that attempts to meet the concerns of the weaker full members with regard to inclusiveness, while retaining the basic numerical structures of the existing ICC. In past proposals, upon which much of this is based, I have attempted to incorporate regional championships and extended opportunities to members - eighteen in the first round. In this proposal I have restricted the opening round to twelve teams - broadly speaking, the number the ICC is willing to extend test status to - with an elite tier of six teams and a final. The diagram below is based on current or most recent rankings of the various participating teams.

As with previous proposals, I have split the season into bilateral and test championship seasons, as scheduling Ashes series into a championship format is unnecessarily restrictive. Whether nations should reschedule bilateral commitments in the event that two teams are drawn against each other within the championship is an open question.

The competition structure is relatively self-explanatory, but several remarks should be made on each stage:

Championship Final
1st from Test Championship; Two Test series, home and away.

The center-piece of the competition, most likely played in September-October in the gap left by the Champions League, when all nations are able to stage matches. See this taxonomy for a discussion on deciding drawn series and Test matches.

Test championship
1st from Test Championship Qualifiers, 1st from Tier One Repechage; Three Test series, home and away.

The core of the competition finals, with the best six teams competing in two groups. By limiting it to three teams in each group the competition can be done in one year (six home matches for each side).

Tier One Repechage
2nd from Test Championship Qualifiers; Two Test series, home and away.

The repechage for second placed teams in the qualifier has two aims. Firstly, to allow multiple opportunities for teams to make the top-six (particularly as there will be luck in the seeding of the previous round); and to accommodate more matches between the teams ranked five through eight, creating a more competitive structure. Like the final two years later, the repechage can be played in September/October, meaning it won't impact the bilateral schedule for the following year.

Test Championship Qualifiers
Participant in Test Championship, Finalist in Tier Two Championship, 1st in Round Two Qualifiers; Three Test series, home and away.

The qualifiers are the inclusive aspect of the championship structure, and are broad enough to include all the full members and two associates, along with the higher ranked teams they want to play. Like the finals, they can be done in a year, and because of the group structure every place is meaningful: first getting direct qualification, and second the repechage opportunity.

Tier Two Championship Final
1st from Tier Two Championship; Two Test series, home and away.

A final series as with the tier one championship, with the added incentive that the teams qualify directly for the Test Championship Qualifiers in the following cycle.

Tier Two Championship
3rd in Test Championship Qualifiers, 2nd in Tier One Repechage, Finalist in Intercontinental Cup; Two test series, home and away.

The second tier championship is largely there to provide competitive cricket for those ranked outside the top-six. The four-team group allows the Intercontinental Cup to serve as a secondary qualification pathway for this level, the other teams having been knocked out of the previous Test Championship qualifier rounds. As there are four teams in each group, the series are shorter (two tests each), but for the Intercontinental Cup qualifiers will be both the strongest and deepest schedule they will participate in over the cycle.

Intercontinental Cup
2nd/3rd in Round Two Qualifiers; Single First-class match, home or away.

The existing I-Cup structure fits snugly into the Test championship competition, operating over two years, with seven group games and a final. The finalists get the opportunity to play Test cricket (depending on how status is allocated) in the Tier Two Championship. The remaining teams must begin again the following year in the Round One qualifiers. By continuing the structure during years set aside for bilateral cricket, the associate nations (who play few bilateral matches) have cricket scheduled throughout the four year cycle.

Round Two Qualifiers
2nd-4th in Tier Two Championship, 1st/2nd in Round Two Qualifiers; Single First-class match, home and away.

In many ways the most cut-throat of any of the competition structures. The short and small groups and single qualifiers largely serves as a second chance for those who didn't progress from Tier Two, while introducing six teams from the first round of qualifiers. There is a case for making these two match series, but the ICC would need to fund full time professional teams for all twelve participants, and pay for matches that will be mostly make losses.

Round One Qualifiers
3rd-8th in Intercontinental Cup, 1st in Regional Qualifiers, 1st in Regional Repechage; Single First-class match, home or away.

Unlike the second round of qualifiers, the first round offers two spots in the following competition, but with one fewer match per team and one extra team in each group. Measured by ranking difference, this is the least competitive of any of the structures, notwithstanding that associate cricket is generally more competitive, and by only a couple of places.

Regional Qualifiers / Regional Repechage

Qualification for this has been deliberately left open as it depends on whether any regional restructure takes place - in which case it might be two teams from three regions, rather than one from five, and a best second place-getter. And whether qualifiers come from ODI tournaments, or a two or three day match between the best placed teams in each region. There is also a case for taking the six teams that qualify for World Cricket League Division Three, and aligning that tournament with the Round One qualifiers.

The general benefits of this structure are relatively easy to see. It is succinct and meaningful with a legible structure, allowing a full cycle of matches for the associate nations, and a combination of championship and bilaterals for the full members.

Most importantly, it doesn't rigidly separate the divisions. Unlike a tiered league structure, teams at roughly the same level will play more matches with each other, while still receiving a handful of games against those much better (or worse) than themselves. This can be seen by comparing the number of matches per match-up in the Two Tier system in red and the championship structure above in green:

Although the two-tier championship is slightly more competitive (represented by the tight bounds around the central axis) it offers few opportunities and misses many possible competitive matchups between teams separated by a divisional break. By contrast, the championship structure both limits the number of mismatches and offers numerous opportunities for teams to play their closest rivals. A team that is successful can rise faster through a championship (five years vs six once in the multi-day structure) and has more leeway than a single promotion place can allow.

Finally, it is easily realisable, as it needs only the creation of the round one and two qualifiers and the massaging of bilateral fixtures into the championship structure for the full members. It brings in two associate nations (which was already under discussion) but limits their exposure to the top-ranked full members to a single home series for each. Essentially: three home Test matches against sides ranked 9-12 every four years. If CA and the ECB aren't willing to accept even that token commitment to inclusiveness, then Test cricket really does have problems.

It doesn't. Unless it creates them for itself.

Cricket - Manifesto 11th September, 2016 18:43:14   [#] [0 comments] 

Survey into a Test Championship and Bilateral Structures
Russell Degnan

I am pleased to announce, that after several months of research, survey construction, collection, promotion, and finally writing, the Survey into a Test Championship and Bilateral Structures has been completed and submitted to the ICC for this weekend's meeting.

In total, 1,070 people responded to the survey, expressing their views not only on the aims and their myriad of a Test championship, but also T20 cricket, status, and a wide variety of topics via the comments. Thank you to each and every respondent for your considered opinions, and to the various people who have helped promote, edit or shape the content within. I hope I have adequately captured the variety of ideas.

The key findings in relation to aims are captured in this graph.

Opportunity for teams to compete was considered the most important of the aims, but most had a large following. The ICC has been urged to adopt a balanced approach to a Test championship, taking into account the importance of opportunity and competitiveness, preserving the traditions that make Test cricket great, and the financial imperatives.

The full 68 page document can be downloaded below, along with the extensive Appendix B containing public comments.

Download Report Download Comments

Cricket - Manifesto 21st April, 2016 23:51:12   [#] [0 comments] 

Financing a test championship
Russell Degnan

As the ICC moves towards a test championship it is worth reflecting on the most significant barrier to potential reform: the financial impact of scheduling changes on the members involved.

The existing financial structure of bilateral cricket

At present, excepting some tour payments that cover costs, full members sell their tv rights, and take the full amount of local revenues whenever a team tours. They sell those rights globally, meaning that for many members in small markets, the bulk of their income from test cricket comes not from their local market, but by selling their local content to overseas television. Moreover, because those stations are primarily interested in their own local team, only three tours are worth significant amounts of money (if not profit): India (by some margin), England and Australia. A fuller explanation of these values is outlined in this post.

Although ICC revenue makes up a significant proportion of overall revenue for smaller members, there is none forthcoming from test cricket. As there is no ICC run and owner test championship (except for negligible prize-money), the ICC owns no rights. In the past decade, the big-3 has consolidated their financial positions by increasing the amount of tours they make to each other. Those marquee tours to each other are longer, and more sought after by local fans (particularly the Ashes which is worth upwards of 50% over a normal tour). It is difficult to calculate the exact value of tv rights for test cricket, as they are sold as a package of formats. But, based on projections of audience, across the number of matches played, a rough guide to test cricket revenue sources for the big-3 versus the other seven full members is as follows:

Figure 1. Existing test cricket revenue sources

The disparity between the value of these popular tours and everything else is so great that my estimate puts the value of marquee tours at something like half of all test revenue. And the value of a big-3 tour to anywhere at 65% of all test revenue. The significance on this on governance can also not be over-stated. As the vast majority of touring revenue comes from hosting the Indian test team, this dynamic allowed the BCCI to rake in power to itself by trading tours for votes, and the threat of no tour for compliance, prior to the reforms (after which they no longer needed to manhandle the other board members).

Financial hurdles to reform

As we shift towards a test championship and more sensible structure, the existing revenue distribution suggests several barriers to any proposal being approved.

As the big-3 make a significant proportion of revenue from their incestuous touring schedule. The more evenly the schedules are created, the more money floats out of that bubble and into the general pool. Under reasonable assumptions, a seven team division with an even number of matches would shift around $10m in revenue per year from the Big-3 (mostly Australia and England) to some of the other full members. In the context of their billion dollar incomes over each cycle, that isn't a huge amount. But that figure hides a more serious problem at the other end of the table.

Figure 2. Test cricket revenue sources under an even tour distribution

Every one of the other full member nations depends on those periodic tours from the big-3 to top up their revenue. By creating an exclusive top division, and removing them from that revenue source the West Indies and those below them will find their own $40m hole in already teetering budgets. The broader the base of nations that need to be sustained, the larger the revenue drop for the big-3 will be.

As marquee series are also more popular amongst local fans, there is no guarantee the drop off in overall revenue from reducing them will be regained from the context of a test championship, nor where that money will end up. Uncertainty will push administrators away from any proposals. With one or two exceptions, they are inherently risk-averse, and focused primarily on what their board will receive, rather than the potential growth of overall revenues.

Around an impasse - schedule splitting and collective bargaining

If fear of uncertainty - and potential losses - will kill any proposals, then that suggests two measures by which a future test championship could incorporate features of the existing distribution into future programs.

Firstly, as noted above, the touring calendar of the Big-3 is roughly evenly split between their marquee series and everyone else. Although survey responses to date indicate a strong preference for a championship to be an all-inclusive part of the FTP over a short tournament, there was a split response over whether series should be of even length, and the maintenance of marquee series ranked highly among the presented aims and concerns. At least amongst the fans I have had respond, the maintenance of series like the Ashes ranks as important as creating a working championship format.

One possibility is to split the four year cycle, between bilateral fixtures in two years, and a test championship in the others. The existing marquee structure would remain in place, and the big-3 would suffer no potential revenue or fixture losses, as those tours would continue as they do now. However, the institutionalisation of marquee fixtures would fill the calendar in the space reserved for bilateral tours; removing the ability of the other full members to attract the big-3 for tours of their own. To circumvent that, they need a source of revenue from the test championship.

The second reform to achieve financial stability is for the other members to collectively bargain their home touring rights. At present, there is a zero-sum game in attracting tours from the big-3. Relegation presents itself as a removal of lucrative tours and financial armaggedon for members who drop out of the top tier.

By pooling their individual home rights in test championship years, and selling them via the ICC as a packaged tournament, it would no longer matter who the big-3 tour in that part of the cycle. All money would be collected and distributed amongst the members involved: partly by need, partly by performance, partly by value foregone from signing away their collective rights. (The big-3 signing on is optional, but preferable from a commercial perspective.) As each member is also now invested in a test championship, it is in their interest to create a format that maximises revenue: by competitiveness and meaningful matches.

Figure 3. Test cricket revenue sources under a shared tournament revenue model

The exact nature of that format is outside the scope of this article. It is possible to have strict tiers over a cycle, and fluid ones, that move from qualification stage to qualification stage. Each has their merits and followers.

Without financial reform though, in which the ICC must take a central role, there are too many reasons for members to opt out of a system that, broken as it is, provides low risk grease for the financial wheels of smaller members. A more robust system, via collective agreement is possible, and even necessary if scheduling reforms are to be achieved.

If you missed it, I am conducting a survey on test championship aims:

Take the survey now!

Cricket - Manifesto 27th February, 2016 12:27:02   [#] [2 comments] 

Test Championship / FTP Survey / Aims and Ideals
Russell Degnan

The sudden surge of interest in a test championship, led by the ICC who have commissioned a study into possible formats, has renewed the periodic influx of ideas for how it can be implemented. These range from short tournaments of a few weeks, through Davis Cup style home-away knockouts all the way to leagues with relegation and promotion. Deciding what is "best" depends completely on what criteria is being used to judge. In this respect, the absence of a discussion on what a test championship should aim to achieve, is notable for its absence. This survey attempts to bridge that void.

Aims can be placed in two categories. The first, are requirements: those things without which a championship cannot, and will not succeed. They are short, but vital:


  1. Player workloads needs to be reasonable
    In short, it is impossible to sustain more than 12 tests per year for top class players. This equates to around six tests during a home summer (over 9 weeks), and another six played away. Beyond that, burnout, injuries and retirements (or abandonment to T20 contracts) are nearly certain.
  2. The schedule needs accommodate climate/seasons
    Perhaps obvious, but important to remember that a team needs to be playing at home during their season, and away at other times. Schedules that bounce them into unfavourable climes risk washouts, financial losses, and lack of interest.
  3. Funding/revenue should be stable
    The big question. As structured the FTP guarantee of home fixtures is what lubricates the professional structure. Changed, and the money needs to still flow, either via ICC television rights and distribution, or some other mechanism.

The second set of aims are more complex. By themselves, each is (probably) desirable, but many are in conflict with each other. The purpose of the survey below is to assess which are most important, when administrators have to choose. A system that promotes and relegates sides must react neither too fast, nor too slow to the vagaries of form and ability, maintaining traditions and competitiveness, lending itself to expansion, but creating a (sellable) spectacle. It is possible, but not simple. Eleven have been identified, and a brief description is attached to each.


  1. The schedule should allow expansion of Test matches to more nations
    The bugbear of the current FTP, that it is too full. A better structure must allow new nations to emerge, and find their place.
  2. All players/teams should have the opportunity to reach the highest level of competition
    For test cricket to thrive, it must be the goal of players. If T20 is to be the high point of cricketing glory, then players will naturally aim for that instead.
  3. Games and series should be meaningful - minimising dead matches
    Meaning, in this sense, that a match determines if a team progresses (or fails to) in a tournament, based on the result. Not to be confused with:
  4. Matches should be scheduled between teams of similar ability
    Or competitiveness. Which will help ensure that games are exciting to watch, immaterial of the context in which they are being played.
  5. Marquee series (such as the Ashes) should be protected
    Test cricket has a tradition of long series between established sides, which conflicts with tournaments, expansion and relegation. As structured, these matches earn the biggest tv rights, and attract the biggest crowds; no small thing to lose
  6. Regional/traditional rivalries should be built upon
    Traditional, in this sense, referring to nations with shared sporting history, but often sporadic cricket fixtures (such as Australia vs New Zealand, or England vs Ireland). A subtle difference to the marquee fixtures above.
  7. Movement from lowest to highest tier should be possible within an elite player's career (6-10 years)
    Opportunity for players in developing nations rests on their ability to compete with the best, if they deserve to do so. But teams are often only good for a few years, and a structure that took a decade to promote a side will miss that chance.
  8. The competition winner should reflect the best team, not the luckiest
    Test cricket, more than any other sporting contest, is difficult to win by luck alone, but a knockout match in one specific set of conditions, could still produce any result. A tournament promoting itself as finding the champion ought to neutralise those advantages.
  9. A championship should reflect Test cricket's traditional schedule of series played home-away
    Knockouts are easier to schedule, but cricket has traditionally used series and tours. A championship can be constructed both ways, but other aims are easier in a short tournament.
  10. A championship should build to a conclusion/champion
    As seen in football, a team can win trophies in two distinct styles: via a league trophy (effectively best ranked) or via a cup with a final between the best two sides.
  11. Natural tournament cycle should be preserved (~4 years)
    Here again, the timing of a tournament matters. Cricket, like football, or the Olympics, usually runs along four year cycles, but shorter, or longer tournaments are possible.

That is a diverse set of aims. It is not possible to have them all. Competitive balance contradicts with an expansion program; knockouts will lend themselves to an exciting tournament but not necessarily the best team; making all cricket meaningful makes scheduling hard, and could cut into marquee and traditional series; and longer series of equal length make it hard to give opportunities to other nations.

To assess them I have constructed a survey that looks at both these aims, and some major issues around the construction of a new FTP and bilateral structure that would implement a Test championship. It does not look at any specific Test championship structure, but rather what matters to the various stakeholders. Feel free to include any proposals in the comments, along with your reasoning.

Take the survey now!

Cricket - Manifesto 14th February, 2016 16:48:48   [#] [2 comments] 

Possible methods for deciding test match draws
Russell Degnan

The proposals for a rebirth of a test championship raises the interesting question of what to do when a knockout test match is drawn. The broader context allows some default options, such as the higher ranked, or higher placed team progressing, or to calculate an aggregate margin in a drawn series. But depending on the format, there will often be occasions when teams need to be separated within a single match. Six options are discussed below, and their merits.

For the purposes of an example, Australia`s most recent draws (against New Zealand and West Indies) will be cited. Assume in both cases that it was a single match series.

By a timeless test

The traditional option, in many ways, as it was used to decide series in Australia even after the war, when the final test was decisive.

Pros: Result is not contrived, but within the match.
Cons: Discourages assertive batting; can cause significant scheduling problems if a test is drawn out, particularly in a tight tournament.

v NZ: Australia would have batted on in both innings, without the loss of wickets that proceeded the declaration. New Zealand would need at least 217 runs with 8 wickets in hand.
v WI: Another 28 wickets needed to be taken. Practically another test match.

By higher ranked side

If a competition has a group stage this would mean by higher points tally, but in a straight knockout would fall back on the ICC rankings (and their foibles).

Pros: Is immune to the weather; both sides know what to do.
Cons: Isn`t decided on the field; encourages the higher ranked (and stronger) side to play for a draw.

AUS def NZ
AUS def WI

By T20 / super over or equivalent

Five days of cricket completed in a different format, just to get one.

Pros: Is quick, entertaining, and decisive.
Cons: Ignores the result of the actual test; is also stymied by rain (particularly on day 5); would encourage teams that were beind (or strong at T20) to play for a draw.

By first innings totals

In the event of a draw the highest first innings would win. A format commonly used in club cricket, and to get results in first class competitions.

Pros: Makes for exciting cricket in the first innings, as a team must stay in front.
Cons: Would discourage declarations and attacking cricket; It is possible to rain out a first innings too.

NZ 624 def AUS 9/559
AUS require 154 runs. Match result undetermined.

By average (runs/wickets) for the series

In the event that the final match of a series was a decider, the average per wicket for the whole series could be used in the event of a draw. Otherwise this is equivalent to the count back method, below.

Pros: Gives teams a clear idea of what they need to do.
Cons: Favours the side batting last as they`ll only use their best batsmen; in a series works against the team that won the decisive moments (ala England in `09 and `15); discourages going for a result over building a big total; encourages declaring on tail-enders.

NZ 60.67 def AUS 59.00
AUS 88.00 def WI 33.00

By limiting the total overs (1st and 2nd innings combined)

In this format a team must declare their second innings (the third innings) when they have used half the match overs (usually 225). The team with the highest total would win, regardless of wickets. In the event of rain or slow over rates the allotted overs would need to be adjusted - in the event of late rain this would require a D/L style decision (or count back, as below). A single reserve day would significantly reduce the threat of confusing results.

Pros: Provides a finishing chase on the final day; ensures both teams to know what they need to do.
Cons: Could become messy with lost overs; a lot of rain would end up like an ODI.

In the match: AUS 236 overs for 944 runs vs NZ 182 overs for 724 runs
In this scenario: AUS 215 overs for 849 runs, leaving NZ 33 overs to get 125 (8 wickets in hand)

In this match: WI 113 overs for 330 runs v AUS 38 overs for 176 runs
In this scenario: WI D/L adjusted to 53 overs, leaving AUS ~10 runs in 15 overs (8 wickets in hand)

By count back

In this format, the team that was ahead at the loss of that particular wicket in their own innings would be declared the winner when time ran out. This would mean at any time in the match (after the first innings) a team could tell if they were in front.

Pros: Doesn`t unduly favour either side, and allows a match to fluctuate particularly as a draw approaches; discourages bowling for a declaration.
Cons: Encourages run-scoring over chasing a target; could be controversial if umpires end a match for light (ala PAK v ENG in UAE)

NZ 668/12 def AUS 601/12
Australia`s next wicket was at 829, meaning Australia would win if they`d taken a wicket in the last hour.
AUS 176/2 def WI 115/3
West Indies 7th wicket was at 246 meaning West Indies would need to take 5 wickets for less than 73 runs in the last hour.

Cricket - Manifesto 6th February, 2016 16:40:48   [#] [0 comments] 

The vexed question of ICC governance
Russell Degnan

Cricket governance is all the rage right now. Cricket Australia just completed a review, the ICC are in the process, and recently asked for public submissions on the matter. A first, asking the public, but one that ought to occur more often.

At heart, each of these reviews is trying to get at a central problem in the structure of cricket: boards are part of a pyramid structure where power derives from the states/counties/nations below. Power derives from those entitities and those entities are self-interested, and sometimes downright incompetent. The ICC, and Cricket Australia, would prefer a direct, independent role, afforded to other sporting organisations. The advantages: coherence and fairness of structures and schedules, and a better management to fulfil the entrepreneurial role of a modern sports administrator.

The downside: letting go of political control at the national level in favour of a global organisation means beign told what to do by the ICC. Jarrod offered a useful guide for exactly why the boards in question oughtn't to have any say. And in many ways those are cricket's more competent boards. At the level below, for every Ireland there is a USA, Kenya or Nepal. Fortunately they are already controlled by the ICC via their purse-strings.

But governance encompasses other aspects as well. The ICC is not always the producer of great ideas. Their management of the process to introduce the DRS, of global tournaments (they were behind the push for a 10 team world cup amongst other sins), and the tinkering with the rules is indicative of a body that needs better feedback. If they are not getting it from the boards, then processes need to be put in place to get it from the general public, players and other engaged and interested parties.

It was with those issues in mind, that, in collaboration with Samir Chopra of The Pitch I wrote our submission to the governance review. The recommendations were as follows:

  • The granting of voting power to the administrative arm of the ICC on the executive board.
  • Official recognition of players associations in negotiations over playing schedules and tournaments, with a preference for voting power on the executive board.
  • The establishment of a larger base of ICC tournaments to promote greater financial parity, meaning and context for cricket, and allow the ICC administration to promote and grow the sport beyond its current limitations.
  • The greater regulation of players and domestic T20 tournaments to encourage the sort of club and player devotion that other sports enjoy.
  • The disclosure of ICC Executive minutes and voting to make member boards accountable to their own membership (cricket clubs, players and spectators).
  • To establish a deliberative democracy approach to expand the scope of opinions and knowledge available to the ICC beyond the current mix of former international players.

The full submission (pdf)

Cricket - Manifesto 22nd December, 2011 16:06:56   [#] [2 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h 2 a b c 3 a b c d e f

Concluding Remarks

In the first part of this manifesto, eight principles were put forward to guide the future development of cricket. They are not without controversy, as the implications of them involve a substantial change in the traditions of touring and the existing international flavour to the game. Regardless, I believe strongly in three key ideas that underpin what I was trying to achieve: that cricket can and should aim to be more widely played; that the existing structure of international cricket is not serving the game well, but rather causing players and fans alike to withdraw from the relentless but meaningless competition; and and that T20 domestic cricket will transform the finances of players and the emphasis of the game in a mostly beneficial manner.

Despite this, I believe strongly in the historical traditions that underpin the game, and am a devoted follower of test cricket, even to the exclusion of other forms of the game. Thus while the manifesto seeks to balance multiple competing ideals, it does so in a way that ultimately reflects my beliefs in what I would like to see played, and the competitions I would take an interest in.

With that in mind, three key ideas were put forward. Firstly, that the calendar should be divided between international and T20 domestic cricket, entailing a reduction in first class seasons (an problem most keenly felt in England) and a rationalisation of international tours. Secondly, that world cricket should be split into regions, or more precisely, that the existing regions be amalgamated into three, such that each has the depth to play competitive tournaments amongst its members that would include the test and associate nations. And finally, that half the international test calendar should be set aside to play regional and world test championships, such that, every four years there would be an official world test champion.

Of those three ideas, the first is controversial, but I suspect inevitable, if the growth of T20 cricket continues as it is likely to do. The second is controversial only insofar as many people are deeply reluctant to bring associate teams into the circle of test playing nations. Politically, this is understandable, as full member status carries with it broader implications. As was recently argued by Roy Morgan however, full member status need not be tied to playing the game. The growth of cricket on the fringes is rapid, and they will shortly clamour for more opportunities. Regional qualification competitions are a tried and true way of bringing smaller nations into competition without hurting the overall "product".

The third idea is not new, in the sense that everybody has their own preference for how a world championship should be played. I only proffer mine on the basis that its incubation has been long (almost a decade) and rigorous thought been applied to the intricacies of the problem. The combination of a 6 team world championship, played inside a year, a qualification play-off, and regional qualifiers is, I believe, a unique approach, which addresses the principles outlined at the beginning of this process. I put it forward now, for comment, as a serious suggestion for the enhancement of the game, on which I hope you, my silent (if not absent) readers, might approve.

A Manifesto for World Cricket (pdf)

Cricket - Manifesto 7th March, 2010 20:28:54   [#] [2 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h 2 a b c 3 a b c d e

Part 3f. Outlining a Schedule

Having completed the proposed tournament format, it is now possible to lay it out in its entirety, to track the progress of teams from stage to stage. To help enable this process, a sample tournament has been constructed with teams filled in (the results being a reflection of the ratings a few months ago).

Using the tournament(s) as a base, and taking into account adjunct series - notably the marquee series - it is possible to construct a workable future tours program across the four year cycle of games. Below shows this for five different sides of varying levels playing within the same region.

Every one of the top 18 teams are basically full time professionals for the four year period in question, playing between 35 and 50 games. In the event professionalism is not an option, then the friendly series, and (potentially) the extra divisions can be shortened or scrapped. It is reasonable, however, to assume that a modest level of revenue from the regional championships would be sufficient to fund a team fully, and allow them to compete year round. The income to be gained from T20 domestic leagues for competent associate players will also, eventually, make the funding of international cricket less necessary.

Finally, the most frequent criticism of ideas that promote games between so-called minnows and others is the issue of mismatches. Ignoring, again, the marquee series, which are organised between boards and therefore not relevant to this discussion, the table below shows the frequency of games between teams in four groups: The big 4 (India, England, South Africa and Australia), the other competitive test teams (New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies and Sri Lanka), the other test teams and leading associates (Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Kenya), and the other associates (Afghanistan, Scotland, Canada and the Netherlands). This excludes Namibia and the UAE, who would add another 6 mismatches if they were put in the bottom group but would play 18 competitive (or better) games.

Games are considered very competitive if they are played against another team in their group, and competitive, if it is against a team in an adjacent group.

Two points are worth noting from the table. Firstly, there are only 26 games listed as a mismatch in the entire tournament. Of those games, 22 would be played in the first six weeks of year one, making them no more than a brief pre-season interlude before the actual competition starts. Secondly, those 26 games compare with over 100 games that are competitive and more than 100 that are very competitive. Of the 84 games played by the big 4, just 16 are against teams of Bangladesh's standard, or worse; the 5th to 8th ranked nations meanwhile, (rightly) split between the top test sides (48 games) and the next level (38 games). While there are a handful of mismatches, and no region can expect to always have stiff competition for either places in the World Test Championship or for Regional Champion, this is a highly competitive structure where few games can be taken for granted, and almost all have some meaning in the narrative sense.

Cricket - Manifesto 7th March, 2010 15:38:48   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h 2 a b c 3 a b c

Part 3d. Year 1: Regional Test Championships

The creation of a world test championship satisfies the key goals of meaningful cricket and an elite competition without burdening the schedule. It leaves unresolved the problem of qualification and inclusiveness that is necessary to provide opportunities and goals for emerging nations. The proposed solution to both of these is a regional championship, played, as in football, two years prior to the world championship, also pitting the best six teams from each region against one another.

Unlike the world championship however, the appropriate format is not two groups of three. In that format, the regional heavy-weights would spend almost all summer thrashing minnows. To prevent that, and for logistical constraints imposed by the participants coinciding summers, the regional tournament is staged.

While regional variations are possible, and perhaps even desirable given the disparate levels of competitiveness each region contains, a standard format is here proposed, that can be completed across an 18 week international summer.

The final stage is a three team league, played over 12 weeks, with each team playing four tests at home and four away. Points are counted as described previously, and the top team is considered the regional champion. A final was considered but considered problematic. Firstly, the competition is already very long, potentially spilling over into the "off-season" in places where cricket is still playable. Secondly, a final like the inevitably dreary Shield final would be of no great benefit to the game, and in any case, would only be a single game in the competition (making most of the preceding 12 games meaningless). Thirdly, in such a small league, several group games will already have been decisive in determining the champion, and there is no need to devalue them in favour of another result.

As described previously each region will send either one or two teams to the world test championship, as well as one team to the playoffs. A plate competition needs to be held concurrently to determine places four through six.

The first stage is also a three team league, but with the competition split into two groups and ech side only playing two tests at home, and two away (one of each against each side). As before, points will determine the winner, with the group champions going into the final stage, and the two second placed sides going into the second, intermediate stage. This stage is designed to ensure that a random draw doesn't prevent a good side from making further progress. It is proposed as a two leg play-off, with the winner decided on aggregate margin.

There are numerous issues with the regional championships. Firstly, eventually the problem of playing against minnows has to be addressed. The regional approach minimizes mismatches, but does so at the expense of more games for those teams. You cannot have both, and there will inevitably be winners and losers in the process. Some team, somewhere, must be cut.

Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are the clear losers, being likely to lose their respective regional playoff games, and be relegated to playing the associates. It is possible to play, over the same time frame, a tournament with four in each group, but results in teams playing every week, with no rest (as described, a team will only play two weeks in three). The Northern regions lack of test teams makes that interesting. In the past 30 years it would almost never have been competitive, with either England or the West Indies dominating, and the northern associate merely making up the numbers. The rapid turnaround in the fortunes of the test teams in this group is sufficient reason to hope one of those associates can shortly match it with their counterparts, but who can say how long that might take (perhaps not long if the West Indies continue to rapidly close the gap in the wrong direction).

Nevertheless, necessary exclusions and too few games aside, the regional championship provides a fair balance between the competing objectives surrounding associate cricket, and the promise of reasonable competition at the pointy end of the tournament.

Part 3e. Year 0: Regional Associate Qualifiers

There is no graphic, or proposed format for this, as associate and affiliate cricket is too close to its infancy to be sure how this might develop. Only eight associates will play in the regional qualifiers however, two in the Southern and Asian regions, and four in the (much stronger) Northern region. Some sort of first class tournament is required to decide who qualifies - test sides, understandably, need not be included at this level.

It is likely, in the same vein as the UEFA Champions League qualifiers or FA Cup, that there might need to be several stages of competition, perhaps over several years prior to Year 0. Better sides would enter in the latter stages, culminating in a final tournament, or group competition that leads to the regional qualifiers. Every team that qualifies for the regional qualifiers would be entered in a division of the world test championship, making three tiers, and 18 teams in all.

Cricket - Manifesto 5th March, 2010 23:20:52   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h 2 a b c 3 a b

Part 3c. Year 2: The World Test Championship Play-off

A test championship with regional qualification has some clear losers. New Zealand and the West Indies, on recent form, are highly unlikely to qualify above their regional counterparts. For this reason, the sixth spot in each division is determined via a play-off between the next best team in each region (teams not involved in the play-off are free to play marquee tours in the international window).

The format for the play-off is the same as for the world test championship. Each team plays a three test series home and away to the other teams in the play-off. The top team, again based on points, then aggregate margin, and finally net runs per wicket.

The top team in each group moves takes the sixth spot in the world test championship (or second division). The remaining teams are the two seeded teams in the second division (or third). This maintains reasonable regional parity through-out the divisions (a maximum of three teams from any one region).

The play-off system is not perfect. It is possible for the 6th best team to miss out to the 7th (or worse). An alternative system would be to have world, not regional qualifiers - four groups of four, and a play-off between the four second placed sides. There is no inherent improvement in fairness with this approach - the third best side in a group may deserve to be in the finals; it is logistically more problematic, with shorter series, and potentially more overlap in group scheduling; and it doesn't allow rivalries to build up from regular regional championships.

Having said that, teams from strong regions are at a disadvantage with this approach. The fourth placed teams in the Asian and Southern regions (normally Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) are generally excluded, although they will meet the two losing test sides in division two. Conversely, the sides on the border of the world group get meaningful and competitive fixtures against other test sides, with quite reasonable variety. An examination of the past 30 years indicates that the competitiveness and variety of the play-offs is quite high. Based on the ratings at the time, all the top 8 test teams would have failed to qualify on at least two occasions; would have qualified either directly or through the play-offs on at least 10 occasions; and would have been seeded at least once. Zimbabwe too, would have taken part in the play-offs at least twice, and been seeded first in the second division. But perhaps just as importantly, financially speaking, the major teams are almost always present in the finals.

Dark colours represent regional or play-off winners; yellow represents play-off participants; boxed teams are seeded teams.

Cricket - Manifesto 25th February, 2010 18:06:35   [#] [0 comments] 

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