A normative assessment of the proposed ICC Test Championship
Russell Degnan

Having been so kind as to mention it, it would be remiss of me not to get to Ducking Beamers' request for my thoughts on the proposed ICC Test Championship. The difficulty, for me, is that I think it could be much much more than it is, which makes me embittered and negative (as previous posts have indicated). Thus here, I will be scrupulously fair, by analyzing it against the aims I set out at the beginning of my manifesto, and the aims of a tournament format, as set out here


Assessment of the ICC reform program

It should be amenable to international expansion

Partial fail. The reduction of the 50 over world cup in favour of qualifiers is potentially an improvement, but it depends on the nature of the qualification process. The expansion of the T20 World Cup is a positive in the same vein, but not near enough, given the increase in playing members. The test championship is too vague to completely assess against this aim. It has no method of adding potential new members, but nor would it be impossible to do so, were the test nations inclined.

All players should have the opportunity to play at the highest level

Total fail. There is no inclination to push forward successful teams, as the basic touring system remains in place. The best chance many of us have of seeing good associate players remains with them moving to a test nation.

It should expand the professional playing base

Hard to say. The ICC is failing in its responsibility to pressure its members to rationalise their T20 domestic leagues. The professional playing base is expanding, as the larger Big Bash league will demonstrate, but not because the ICC addressed the issue.

Games and series should be meaningful

Disappointing. Meaning, to me is addressed through narrative, and narrative is strongest when a team has something to play for in the present, not the future. The difficulties with the test league will be addressed below, but suffice to say, it is very hard to build a narrative over a four year frame, and likely that interest in the championship will only emerge at the very end of qualifying (perhaps only during the English summer immediately preceding the finals) and in the finals themselves.

Marquee (profitable) tours must be preserved

An unqualified success, unsurprisingly.

For each format, there should be some sort of world championship

A success, albeit with a limited definition of "world" to largely mean "the full member nations".

Regional rivalries should be built upon

No change to speak of, although the plan for T20 world cup qualifying is apparently to run it on regional lines, which would be an improvement.

Domestic and international cricket need clearly defined windows

Total fail. And a potentially costly one, if players from the smaller nations continue to refuse central contracts and retire prematurely.


Assessment of the ICC test championship format

You want to minimize luck, such that the best team wins

In qualifying, a great success, in the finals, a total failure. Conditions in a test match can vary markedly, and teams are very inconsistent from game to game (around 200 runs on average). To create a system whereby only semi-finals and a final decides the winner is to put the winner in the hands of fortune (particularly the toss). To also put the final in a single nation, when home advantage tends to equal around 100 runs, is to give England a significant advantage over their rivals.

You want to maximize the number of games that are decisive, such that the teams that progress are never clear.

Fail. The finals are entirely decisive but amount to only 3 games. The preceding 200 or so games that will make up qualifying will only be decisive if at the end of qualifying the following conditions are met:

  • One of the teams playing is on the verge of 4th or 5th
  • The result of that game or series will push them either in or out of the top four.

While a final that follows an Ashes summer might reasonably include both England and Australia, it is just as likely both will be either safely finals bound or eliminated before the series starts. Even were we to find ourselves in a position that the winner would progress to the test championship final, it would be played out within an Ashes series, that lacks nothing for meaning or context.

You want to minimize the number of mismatches between two teams of different standards.

A fail. The future test program has been largely preserved, which does minimize mismatches, because the stronger teams are generally richer, but there will be a large number of pointless games at the tail-end of qualifying when the smaller nations already have no chance of qualifying, but have not been eliminated from playing. There are two ways to reduce mismatches: have stages (the fair way); or be ultra-exclusive (the Cricket Australia way). Needless to say I prefer the former.

You want to maximize efficiency, so that the tournament is not too long

Utter failure. The tournament goes for four full years, but is only interesting for two weeks.

Conclusion

Perhaps I am being too harsh. Tony has already called me a cynic, but it is very hard to see how a four year long qualification process won't be effectively over (for good or ill) except for a small handful of teams (and therefore a very small minority of series) by the final year. The finals are luck driven and biased towards a single home side. Ultimately, a test championship should do two things: conclude with universal acceptance of who is the best side; and provide opportunities for sides of all levels to prove their mettle. As I said in my introduction, it could and should be so much more than it is.

Idle Summers 14th November, 2010 12:11:38   [#] 

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