Two-tier Test plan should have been shot down early: Thakur

Published September 9, 2016
Indian cricket board president Anurag Thakur speaks during a press conference in New Delhi. — AFP/File
Indian cricket board president Anurag Thakur speaks during a press conference in New Delhi. — AFP/File

MUMBAI: India played a key role in sinking a proposal for a two-tier structure in Tests but it should never have been up for discussion at the International Cricket Council’s meeting, according to Indian cricket board president Anurag Thakur.

The ICC shelved the proposal after opposition from India and other full members at a two-day meeting at the world governing body’s headquarters.

The proposal had the top seven ICC-ranked Test sides competing in the first tier and the remaining three full members in a pool with Afghanistan and Ireland, the leading two teams among the ICC’s associate members.

The scheme was intended to provide more context to bilateral Test series and allow the associate nations a chance to compete in the five-day format which is struggling to stave off dwindling popularity across the globe.

“It is off the table,” BCCI president Anurag Thakur said on Thursday. “This should have been shot down at the proposal stage itself as it is not in the interest of all nations.”

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCC), the richest among the ICC’s member boards, believed the division would be financially detrimental to the lower-ranked Test sides and might not be the right answer to the longest format’s falling television viewership.

Thakur, whose predecessor Shashank Manohar is head of the ICC, said India had been supported by the boards of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in shooting down the proposal at the ICC meeting which concluded on Wednesday.

“West Indies also didn’t want the two-tier system while we were confident we could convince top-ranked Pakistan in supporting us,” the 41-year-old Thakur, who is a member of parliament representing India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said.

His Bangladeshi counterpart Nazmul Hassan confirmed the plan had been taken off the table.

“It is good news for us,” said Nazmul, whose board had been fiercely critical of the plan which would have effectively deprived Bangladesh of the opportunity to play major Test teams.

“India and Sri Lanka were also with us, so we were more or less confident that it would not be approved. We are delighted to know that ICC has now informed us of this officially,” he said.

The ICC said its members had made progress on how to take all three of cricket’s formats forward and popularise the game but provided no details.

“There are some complexities, not least because of scheduling and existing structures, but we envisage the changes being implemented for 2019,” ICC CEO David Richardson said in a statement.

“Members will now revert to their boards to share the details of the proposed revised structures and principles.”

Australia’s cricket board had expressed its support for the two-tier proposal to provide context to Test cricket, among a number of other full members.

Cricket Australia (CA) declined to comment on its rejection directly but said it welcomed ‘progress’ at the ICC meeting.

“The workshop provided a forum for all views to be heard and discussed — and for members to work together to build an improved model for bilateral cricket played between nations,” CA CEO James Sutherland said in a statement. “We are confident that the additional structure and context proposed for each of the three formats will significantly enhance cricket’s offering to fans across the globe.”

Thakur said India would have stood to gain from playing more matches against teams such as England and Australia which attract big TV audiences and decent crowds.

“But countries such as Zimbabwe, West Indies and Bangladesh would have suffered huge losses and we didn’t want that,” he added.

The Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA), which represents players around the world, said it would be ‘disappointing’ if the two-tier proposal had been ‘shelved so early in this process’.

A recent FICA survey found 72 percent of players supported the idea of a divisional system, which would include the possibility of promotion and relegation, as a way of adding more meaning to each match.

A.B. de Villiers, South Africa’s Test captain, was quoted in the survey as saying players had already upped their game in anticipation of a split.

“We have already raised our intensity and urgency just knowing that a Test league might happen,” he said. “There is nothing like the pressure and adrenaline that comes with knowing you need to win matches.”

Test series are currently played in isolation, giving them little wider importance apart from their effect on the competing countries’ rankings.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2016

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