THE THINK tank of cricket, based at Lord's, believes the time has come to implement a world Test championship operating over a relatively short period of time.
The MCC's World Cricket Committee, an unpaid voluntary panel with many of the world's leading thinkers at the table, noted that, apart from certain icon series such as the Ashes, Test cricket throughout the world, and in particular among the lower-ranked nations, was in very real danger of dying.
According to consensus, a World Test Championship would re-invigorate players, spectators and broadcasters for what is the pinnacle of the game. Every series would have a meaning, and every Test match would have a context. Players would have the motivation to compete on the biggest stage and would have an annual or biannual chance of winning the title.
Neil Priscott, an MCC official, said: "MCC research has proved that attendances at Test cricket have declined in recent years. In addition, there is a growing ambivalence towards the longer format of the game from cricketers in certain nations, with player surveys revealing that an Indian Premier League contract was the main career aspiration for many. Indeed, the World Cricket Committee noted that the IPL is entirely market-led, as explained by its Commissioner Lalit Modi at the meeting."
The Committee reckons Test cricket is not marketed sufficiently around the world, certainly not to the same extent as other forms of the game, and that crucial to its success is a focused and well resourced marketing strategy.
The Committee also believes that a trial of day/night Test cricket should take place within the next 12 months. Trials should be conducted in first-class cricket beforehand to assess the suitability of the playing conditions and the type of ball used. After hearing endorsements from Shaun Pollock and Steve Waugh, who had both been involved with trials of various coloured balls, the committee were unanimous in their support of the pink ball, which would enable Test cricket to continue to be played in white clothing. The committee feels that a trial of day/night Test cricket could bring new audiences to the game, both in grounds and on television.
The Committee expressed concern about overkill, financial imbalance and the attitude to No Objection Certificates. The panel believes that national boards must carefully control the release of their contracted players to domestic Twenty20 leagues.
The No Objection Certificates required from boards for the release of players for domestic Twenty20 cricket are crucial and must be enforced. Domestic leagues must honour the current agreement whereby cricketers without an NOC are not permitted to compete for two years since their last international appearance.
The Committee is deeply concerned that the proliferation of lucrative domestic 20-over leagues, such as the Indian Premier League, will lead to the premature retirement of quality international cricketers. Those from the lower-ranked Test nations could be particularly susceptible to such a career choice, based on earnings alone.
In 2010 international cricketers will compete in the Indian Premier League, the ICC World Twenty20 West Indies and the inaugural English P20 within a matter of months. There will be no sustained opportunity for these cricketers to play first class or Test cricket in this period. The Committee feels that this is too much 20-over cricket and recognises that players might be forced to make a difficult decision between playing for their country or taking the money on offer elsewhere.
Lalit Modi, the Indian Premier League commissioner, addressed the Committee meeting on the impact of the IPL, outlining the successes of the 2009 tournament and potential plans for expansion in the future. The committee was impressed with the aggressive marketing campaign which resulted in a 93 per cent attendance rate in the grounds in South Africa, with 70 per cent of this audience seeing live cricket for the first time. Test playing countries must be proactive in their marketing strategies for the longer formats of the game.
The Committee endorse ICC’s umpire decision review system, noting three particular successes from the trial. These were an increase in the percentage of correct decisions being made, a marked improvement in on-field player behaviour and endorsement of the system from the umpires themselves.
The Committee was pleased to learn that ICC has sought to rectify areas of the system that caused problems or confusion. The Committee supports ICC’s proposed use of the predictive element of ball-tracking technology for LBW decisions, subject to the introduction of enhanced software which builds in a degree of certainty and would still give the benefit of the doubt to the batsman.
The full list of Committee members:
Tony Lewis (Chairman)