It was recently reported that the International Cricket Council (ICC) is mulling a two-tier Test system with relegations and promotions to try and make the five-day version of the sport more attractive, and commercially viable. With the Test Championship postponed owing to the lack of interest broadcasters are showing in the same, the sport’s governing body had to look at an alternative option to keep the interest alive in Test cricket. A two-tier system could obviously be one of the substitutes, but the bigger challenge would be whether the idea can actually be made to work.
While a two-tier system would make possible the entry of teams like Afghanistan and Ireland into the Test fold, it would also mean that lower level Test teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe wouldn’t get to play against the top-ranked sides that often. Of course, like at things in life, the proposed system too has its pros and cons. But, in case the ICC decides to give the idea a go in the real world, they must first ensure that they have things in order to deal with different challenging scenarios that would come their way during the event.
The biggest hindrance in making any modification to the Test-playing system is the fact that only a total of 10 teams play Test cricket as of now. Even among them, only eight teams can be classified as top sides. There is a further division since New Zealand and West Indies are no longer as competitive in Tests as they used to be some years back. That basically leaves us with only six actually competitive Test countries – India, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan, England and Sri Lanka. It is difficult to comprehend how a two-tier system will work in this scenario.
First and foremost, the divisions would be very predictable. The six top sides mentioned above would mostly be in the first tier while New Zealand and West Indies would be usually battling between promotion and relegation. It is difficult to see lower-placed teams like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh making it to the first tier considering that stronger nations like the Kiwis and the Windies might be in their group sometime or the other. On the other hand, the system could also provide a chance to deprived sides like Afghanistan and Ireland to get a taste of the five- day game much before expected. But the question again is, do people actually want to watch them in the longer version of the game?
Before working on a two-tier system though, the men in charge must first deal with a much graver issue, that of time. With meaningless ODIs and T20s, add it to the IPL and various domestic leagues around the world, will the ICC find it feasible to fit in more teams into the Test equation? For that to happen, they will have to put their foot down and clamp down on unnecessary matches in the shorter version. The biggest worry for them though will remain – will the broadcasters be willing to put in their money on the two-tier Test experiment?
--By A Cricket Analyst