Further to my previous post calling for two Test divisions of six nations each, here is how it would actually work:
- Every side would have to play every other in their league home-and-away, in at least three match series, over a four-year cycle. This means every side would have to play a minimum of 30 Tests every four years for the purposes of the Test championship.
- Sides would be free to play longer series (four or five Tests) should they please - so the Ashes could continue in exactly the same way.
- Sides would also be free to play Tests against countries outside their division; New Zealand would therefore be able to play around 20 Tests against sides in the top division (when they were outside) every four years. This is only slightly less than they do at the moment. The Ashes, for example, would continue in an identical way even if Australia continued their slump and were relegated.
- The points system would work as follows. For every series in the division, there would be a total of six points available. Five of these would be allocated according to the games (so there would be 1 point available per victory in a Test in a five-match series, but 1.67 per victory in a three-Test series, preventing teams getting an advantage for playing more). The points system would encourage attacking cricket - both sides would only get one-third of the points available for a game if they drew it - and also ensure 'dead rubbers' retained a real relevance. There would also be a one-point bonus for a side winning a series.
- The culmination of the four years would be the play-off matches - providing Test cricket with a showpiece event it needs. Matches would be played at a country that won the hosting rights. The play-offs would consist of the top two sides in the top division playing three Tests to determine the Test champions of the tournament. During the breaks between their Tests, there would be the play-off series, also of three Tests, between the bottom (sixth-placed) side in the top division and the winners of the second division, with the winners earning the right to play in the top division for the next four-year cycle. Pitches would be prepared by an independent body, designed with results in mind. In the event of a drawn series, the winners of the second division would be promoted, thereby encouraging the higher-ranked side to play attacking cricket and prove they deserved to remain in the division.
To show how it would work in practice, here are two prospective schedules. The first is for England in division one; the second for them in division two (NB assuming New Zealand replaced them in division one)
Home – New Zealand 2 Tests; India 4 Tests
Away – South Africa 5 Tests; West Indies 2 Tests
Home – Ireland 1 Test; Australia 5 Tests
Away – Bangladesh 1 Test; India 4 Tests
Home – Sri Lanka 3 Test; Pakistan 3 Tests
Away – New Zealand 2 Tests; Australia 5 Tests;
Home – West Indies 2 Tests; South Africa 5 Tests
Away –Pakistan 3 Tests; Sri Lanka 3 Tests; then Test championship
Total number of Tests – 50
Home – Afghanistan 3 Tests; India 3 Tests
Away – South Africa 3 Tests; West Indies 3 Tests;
Home – Ireland 3 Tests; Australia 5 Tests
Away – Bangladesh 3 Tests; India 3 Tests
Home – Zimbabwe 3 Test; West Indies 3 Tests
Away – Australia 5 Tests;
Home – Ireland 3 Tests (away, but played during English season); Bangladesh 3 Tests; South Africa 3 Tests
Away – Zimbabwe 3 Tests; Afghanistan 3 Tests; then Test championship
Total number of Tests – 52
Even in division two, England still have 22 Tests over three years against the biggest crowd-pullers – Australia, India and South Africa.
(Teams in italics are those outside England’s division)