World Test Championship, ODI League to bolster viewer engagement, build relevance
MUMBAI: With the need to provide more context for Tests and ODIs and grow viewer engagement in the two formats, the International Cricket Council (ICC) had recently approved the creation of a World Test Championship and a 13-team men’s ODI League, which will act as a qualification pathway for the ICC Cricket World Cup.
The ICC had made this announcement while releasing the men’s Future Tours Programme (FTP) from 2018-2023.
This is how things will work according to the ICC. Nine top-ranked sides will participate in the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship, which will run from 15 July 2019 to 30 April 2021. The sides will play six series in the two-year cycle on a home and away basis against opponents they have mutually selected. The two top-ranked sides will then progress to the June 2021 final to decide the World Test champions.
In addition, the 12 Test playing nations and the Netherlands, will participate in the 13-team ODI League, which will run from 1 May 2020 to 31 March 2022 and all the sides will play eight series over a two-year cycle on a home and away basis against mutually agreed opponents. Afghanistan And Ireland were granted Test Cricket status last year a move that took the number of Test Cricket playing nations from 10 to 12. Recently Afghanistan played their first Test Match against India. Afghanistan and Ireland are not a part of the World Test Championship.
Not surprisingly the industry is enthused about the idea of the World Test Championship and the ODI League.
Sony Pictures Networks India president sports, distribution Rajesh Kaul noted that the move of the Test championship and the ODI league is good for everybody. “Now matches will have greater relevance. More value will be attached to bilateral series. Results will be relevant. The interest among spectators will be much higher.”
He also maintains that there is enough room for the three formats of cricket to thrive. For the record, Sony has the rights for the cricket boards of England, Australia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Pakistan. Star has the BCCI, Bangladesh, New Zealand and ICC rights besides the cash-rich domestic T20 league the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Media Partners Asia (MPA) senior analyst Srivathsan A.R. noted that the ICC is taking efforts to make Test cricket (which is always played on a bilateral basis) relevant by introducing the Test Championship with a final to decide the winner.
“During this period, based on the published FTP, India will play 18 test matches (10 at home, 8 away) out of 65 matches it will play overall (outside of ICC/ACC tournaments). In particular, India does not play against Pakistan and Srilanka, contests that may entice more viewership. The final, however, may be of interest given the possibility of India playing Pakistan,” Srivathsan said.
He further noted that on a broader perspective, India still gets to play more than 70% of its matches in one day/T20 format – where advertiser and consumer interest is maximum. “On this basis, we don’t expect the Test Championship to impact the sports genre in a significant way as IPL, ICC tournaments and BCCI one day/T20 bilaterals continue to drive subscription and advertising for Star, the current rights holder. The Test Championship along with day/night test matches in India might reinvigorate consumer interest in the longer form of the game (i.e. tests).”
He further noted that the proposed one-day championship is not relevant for India since it has qualified for the 2023 World Cup, by default, as the host.
Offering a media agencies perspective Dentsu Aegis Network chairman, CEO South Asia Ashish Bhasin said, “Interest in Test cricket has been waning both in terms of viewership and stadium attendance. Anything that revives interest in Test cricket is good for the overall health of the game. Players who excel in the shorter formats of the game honed their skills by playing Test cricket.”
He further noted that Test cricket to an extent has lost ground to the Twenty20 format. The Twenty20 format combines cricket with entertainment while Test cricket is for purists. He also noted that the fact is that cricket is still only played by a few countries compared to football. “In football, many countries compete for the opportunity to participate in the World Cup but many do not make it. If the ICC’s decisions mean that countries like Ireland, Afghanistan play more matches against the bigger teams then the appeal of the game will spread to more countries.”
He also feels that the move could result in more opportunities for young players to emerge, viewer interest to grow and for sponsorship support to come in.
“The ecosystem will develop in other markets. It was positive to see Afghanistan play their first Test match against India. In the IPL you saw Rashid Khan making a big impact. So if the ODI league gives smaller countries more opportunities to play the bigger nations then new stars will emerge, better infrastructure will be developed in those markets. Players’ exposure to the game will grow and so will the fan following in those markets. Global viewership for the game will grow,” he noted.
Having said all of this though, Bhasin is firm on the fact that the quality of the game should not be compromised. “The one important thing to keep in mind is that there has to be a certain quality, a standard that should be maintained while playing cricket. If that does not happen then matches will be lopsided.”
Neo Sports executive VP Mautik Tolia feels that the World Test Championship is a move that was long overdue. “This move had to be done. It should have been done three to four years back. The writing for Test cricket has been on the wall. There was no option but to go down this route to make Test cricket more competitive and relevant. No-one questions this move.”
He is also in favour of Day/night Test matches noting that they will improve viewership both in the stadiums as well as on TV. While OTT platforms also show Test matches besides TV during the daytime the fact is that people who go to offices have to work. Children go to schools, colleges to study.
He further noted that the ODI structure and format earlier worked because there was lower volume of cricket and sports to see. Now with the rise of Twenty20 cricket and viewership of other sports growing an innovation for the 50 over game was needed. There is not enough of a competitive element outside of the World Cup or when two strong teams play. He also feels that all three forms of the game need to be preserved. ODIs, he noted, have their own charm. “The twenty20 format has helped ODIs evolve. Test cricket, on the other hand, is the true test of a cricketer’s skill and ability.”
He also feels that having more relevance means that marque players might be more reluctant to miss a series which will help maintain the ratings. More importantly, he feels that if the innovations help teams like Ireland play more cricket then it is all for the good. The only way countries like Ireland will improve is if they play more against the top rung teams.
India’s opening series in the World Test Championship is against the Windies in the Caribbean in July 2019, while their first ODI series in the league is against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka in June 2020. This league will serve as a qualification pathway for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023. India (as the host) plus the seven highest-ranked sides in the ODI league as on 31 March 2022 will qualify directly for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, while the bottom five sides will get a second chance to qualify through the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier.
For the record, India will once again play the most number of international matches 203 in the FTP. West Indies plays 186 matches. England plays 175 matches. India is expected to play 51 Test matches which is second only to England who plays 59 Test Matches. India also plays 83 ODIs and 69 T20 Internationals. India at home hosts all the Test playing nations apart from Ireland and Pakistan. India and Pakistan have not played a bilateral series for a long time due to political tensions.
The BCCI is clear that Test Cricket is important. “While FTP is now a bi-partite agreement but ICC also pitched in with their inputs while setting up the calendar. All those who thought that BCCI will ignore Test cricket should be relieved that we are playing more than 50 Tests in next five years,” a senior BCCI official told PTI.
The structure of the men’s FTP (2018-23) includes:
- ICC Cricket World Cup – 2019 and 2023
- ICC World T20 – 2020 and 2021
- World Test Championship
- Cycle 1 – 2019-2021 (final 2021)
- Cycle 2 – 2021-2023 (final 2023)
- All bilateral Tests, ODIs and T20Is outside of the above competitions
India’s FTP from 2018-2023 is as follows:
July-September: Away series against England (5 Tests, 3 ODIs and 3 T20Is)
September: Asia Cup
October-November: Home series against Windies (3 Tests, 5 ODIs and 3 T20Is)
November 2018- January 2019: Away series (4 Tests, 3 ODIs and 3 T20Is)
January-February: Away series against New Zealand (5 ODIs and 3 T20Is)
February-April: Home series against Australia (5 ODIs and 2 T20Is) and Zimbabwe (1 Test and 3 ODIs)
May-July: ICC Cricket World Cup
July-August: Away series against Windies (2 Tests, 3 ODIs and 3 T20Is)
October-December: Home series against South Africa (3 Tests), Bangladesh (2 Tests and 3 T20Is) and Windies (3 ODIs and 3 T20Is)
January: Home series against Australia (3 ODIs)
February-March: Away series against New Zealand (2 Tests, 3 ODIs and 5 T20Is)
March: Home series against South Africa (3 ODIs and 3 T20Is)
June-August: Away series against Sri Lanka (3 ODIs and 3 T20Is) and Zimbabwe (3 ODIs)
September: Asia Cup
October: Home series against England (3 ODIs and 3 T20Is) and Away series against Australia (3 T20Is)
October-November: ICC World T20 (In Australia)
November 2020- January 2021: Australia tour continues (4 Tests and 3 ODIs)
January-March: Home series against England (5 Tests)
March: Home series against Afghanistan (3 ODIs)
June: World Test Championship Final
July-September: Away series against Sri Lanka (3 T20Is) and England (5 Tests)
October: Home series against South Africa (3 ODIs and 3 T20Is)
October-November: ICC World T20
November-December: Home series against New Zealand (2 Tests and 3 T20Is)
December 2021 – January 2022: Away series against South Africa (3 Tests and 3 T20Is)
January-March: Home series against Windies (3 ODIs and 3 T20Is) and Sri Lanka (3 Tests and 3 T20Is)
March: Away series against New Zealand (3 ODIs)
July-August: Away series against England (3 ODIs and 3 T20Is) and Windies (3 ODIs and 3 T20Is)
September: Asia Cup
October-November: Home series against Australia (4 Tests and 3 T20Is)
November: Away series against Bangladesh (2 Tests and 3 ODIs)
December 2022- January 2023: Home series against Sri Lanka (5 ODIs)
January-February: Home series against Australia (3 ODIs) and New Zealand (3 ODIs)
February-March: ICC Cricket World Cup (in India)
The Next FTP Cycle Per Team (2018-19-2022-23)
India (203): 51 Tests, 83 ODIs, 69 T20Is
West Indies (186): 43 Tests, 75 ODIs, 68 T20Is
England (175): 59 Tests, 66 ODIs, 50T20Is
Australia (174): 47 Tests, 68 ODIs, 59 T20Is
Pakistan (164): 40 Tests, 61 ODIs, 63 T20Is
South Africa (160): 38 Tests, 66 ODIs, 56 T20Is
Sri Lanka (160): 43 Tests, 71 ODIs, 66 T20Is
Bangladesh (160): 44 Tests, 59 ODIs, 57 T20Is
New Zealand (159): 38 Tests, 62 ODIs, 59 T20Is
Ireland (142): 13 Tests, 64 ODIs, 65 T20Is
Zimbabwe (130): 21 Tests, 59 ODIs, 50 T20Is
Afghanistan (109): 13 Tests, 51 ODIs, 45 T20Is
The Netherlands (33): 24 ODIs, 9 T20Is