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:

Requirements

  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.

Aims

  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!


Idle Summers 14th February, 2016 16:48:48   [#] 

Comments

Test Championship / FTP Survey / Aims and Ideals
The survey doesn't work - the "To prevent draws in tournament knockout matches, I'd prefer the winner to be decided by..." question won't accept any answers.
AB  17th February, 2016 23:12:18  

Test Championship / FTP Survey / Aims and Ideals
Hi AB, not sure if you'll check back on this, but please ensure you put one answer in every row and column, as it wants an order.

I have also heard of issues with IE11. Unfortunately it is an external provider, so I can't modify and fix the code.
Russ  18th February, 2016 07:40:13