England's major international venues could agree to host Test matches involving two non-English teams, as the England & Wales Cricket Board meet in Leicester on Wednesday to consider the proposals raised at their Test Match Strategy Day at Stapleford Park earlier in the week. Monday's summit meeting, which was attended by a host of former England captains and players, was called to address the future of Test cricket, which has come under increasing scrutiny following the huge growth in popularity of the Twenty20 format.
At the top of the agenda was the need to strengthen the Future Tours Programme, which has been over-burdened by the sheer weight of matches now required to meet its demands, and undervalued by the proliferation of uncompetitive fixtures. One of the proposals raised was a greater emphasis on contests between the leading Test nations.
"The input from all areas of cricket provided focus on the key opportunities and issues facing the game," said David Collier, the ECB chief executive, who added that the board intended to work more closely with the ICC to give greater context to Test cricket through a World Test Championship.
That proposal could give rise to the intriguing prospect of India playing Tests against Pakistan at Headingley, where Yorkshire's large Asian community could be expected to turn out in droves, or Australia playing South Africa at The Oval. Meanwhile, the weaker nations such as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe could find themselves limited to home Tests only, which would provide them with the exposure necessary for development, but not at the expense of the revenue of the major boards.
Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, hinted at that outcome in Mohali last month, when he warned that Bangladesh might not be invited back for a full Test series after their next tour in 2010. "If we are going to have a proper strategy for Test cricket we want to have games like that we have just had in Chennai," Clarke told reporters. "It showed everybody just what a Test can be. We have to make sure that the standard is there."
Under the staging arrangements being put in place for 2012-16, England's nine Category A grounds are expected to be guaranteed only 11 days of international cricket over the course of five years, a prospect which jeopardises the ambitious expansion plans at many of the venues. Those grounds would doubtless welcome the prospect of more big matches being played on English soil, although one major stumbling block to such an arrangement would be the division of TV revenue.
England's current deal with Sky is worth £300 million over four years, which is a considerably larger income than any other board bar India. It is unlikely the ECB would be willing to agree to a revenue share, as proposed by Cricket Australia, if other nations wanted to stage matches on their turf.
Several other issues were raised at the meeting, including the suggestion that over-rates in Test matches should be improved by using points rewards or penalties within the World Test Championship, rather than the current system of fines and/or bans for transgressing captains. The ECB will also discuss the installation of improved drainage systems in all Test match venues, following the success of the system that is now in place at Lord's.
"I'm confident that there has never been such a gathering in the history of cricket in England and Wales," claimed the ECB chairman, Giles Clarke. "I am extremely grateful for the support of all those who travelled from all corners of the country and the world to share their ideas on the state of Test cricket.
"Everyone who attended shared the desire that Test cricket be preserved and reinforced as the pre-eminent form of this great game. It was an enthralling and informative session which allows the ECB board to consider key proposals which will allow us to deliver our promise of making England and Wales the home of Test cricket."
Six England captains were present at the meeting - Andrew Strauss, Michael Atherton, Alec Stewart, Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Mike Gatting - as well as numerous past and present Test players, from Dennis Amiss, Ashley Giles, Alastair Cook, Hugh Morris, Angus Fraser, Mike Selvey, Jonathan Agnew, David Lloyd and Geoff Miller.
Also present were ICC General Cricket Manager, Dave Richardson, England's assistant coach Andy Flower, the ICC World Twenty20 director Steve Elworthy, and the elite umpire, Simon Taufel, as well as the chairmen and representatives of the 18 first-class counties and MCC.