Two-tier Test cricket.
Right now there is 10 full member Test playing nations in world cricket, Zimbabwe was recently invited back to participate at the test level. Now with all the talk about how test crickets popularity is falling by each test, added to that there is the huge rise in T20 cricket.
In my opinion test cricket is safe and will remain the dominant format of the game and rightly so. That's not to say there is nothing that can't be done to liven things up. I've been talking to many people on this subject and some ideas have been discussed and for me there is one reasonably easy solution.
I think something is needed to freshen things up, to bring a spark back into the format. The idea of a two-tier system in test cricket.
The basic idea of having the top eight full member teams compete in the top tier, whilst the bottom two, with the addition of the top six associate nations would join together and compete in the second tier. With this format you could make a promotion/relegation style to the game.
Now many people reading this who are fans of the Bangladesh and New Zealand cricket team will say this isn't the way to go, as this involves their teams being left to play in the second tier, as currently those two teams occupy the bottom two spots in the ICC Test Rankings but I think we have to start somewhere, cricket needs to progress and I feel it needs to expand.
So the basic idea is you have both tiers competing in test level cricket, playing the same amount of tests as everyone else. After a period of time has gone by and the the games have been competed, say over a two year period, then you would promote the top two from the second tier into the top tier. With that, you would have the bottom two from the top tier relegated into the bottom tier, some might look upon this as a punishment.
Then again it is simply that, a punishment. You could also look upon it as a way of giving your players the push they might need to run that bit faster, to save that extra run in the field, to take that catch, as it might be just that one piece of brilliance that keeps them in the top tier.
These teams who currently occupy the test level field have it too comfortable for my liking. Something needs to change, and I think people all over the world are starting to make a noise about this. Only recently I heard Ian Bishop and Nasser Hussain among others talking about this exact possibility.
We need to open the doors of test cricket to the smaller nations, why is it such a shut closed mentality with some nations. If given the funding and opportunities that the top teams get, then I don't see any reason at all why the likes of Ireland, Holland, Afghanistan etc, can't compete fairly with the big teams, give us the chance of playing with the bottom test teams, and if capable going past them, so that in two years time we can replace them and play in the top tier.
Cricket has the chance to expand it's horizons, it remains to be seen if they will do this. Or will teams be forced to wait till it's too late, where the promising young players that they produce at the associate level are picked to compete for their neighbouring countries, most notably with England. Eoin Morgan is the most high profile case at the moment, he couldn't see a future playing test cricket with Ireland so he knew he had to ply his trade across the water, so he could be given a test opportunity
How many more promising Irish players will have to leave before the ICC see sense, and give this a trial run.
The reason I use Irish players in this scenario is for the reason that, it mostly affects Irish players currently. It's no secret many Irish players compete with county teams in the English county championship, and after a short period of living in England they can be selected for the English national side, the morals of this is for a different day and a different topic.
For now the leading members involved in the ICC need to lead the way and advance cricket, by introducing this type of system, or even a system like it because right now the teams at the associate level are not given a chance.
Recently we witnessed England take on a team comprised of players from some of the associate teams, who joined forces to take on England in a three-day game, and many had the associates written down for a walk over but they couldn't have been further away from the truth.
England had eventually been set a target of 261 for the win, while many would have expected a more straight forward chase, it took a lower order fight to see England through to the finish, in the end they won by three wickets.
With all due respect to the English side, this team they competed against fought well and fought hard, not bad for a team compiled of associate players.
With that result, Irish seamer Boyd Rankin has come out in favour of the ICC granting a combined associate XI test status for future games like this, although in the proper test five-day format, this will not happen.