The proposed world championship of Test cricket is in danger of being scrapped, with India and England expressing serious reservations about the Cricket Australia-backed concept. The championship format had been viewed by some as a viable alternative to the Future Tours Program - which expires in 2012 - with a points system, finals series and, ultimately, trophy presentation to add context and structure to the five-day game.
But concerns over television revenue have placed the concept in jeopardy. The timing and logistical complexities of scheduling nine sets of home-and-away Test series into four-year cycles prompted fears from India and England that lucrative bi-lateral arrangements could be compromised. The issues were raised at the recent chief executives' committee meeting in Johannesburg, which concluded with respective boards being asked to give further thought to how Test cricket might be formatted after 2012.
"It is not final, but there have been some reservations," said IS Bindra, the ICC's principal advisor, who has been vocal supporter of the championship format. "Those two boards (India and England) agreed that there needed to be some refinements and modifications made. They are the financial powerhouses of the game and they obviously have huge television rights deals at stake."
The world championship of Test cricket was originally proposed by Rohan Sajdeh of the Boston Consulting Group and strongly advocated by CA. A BCG consultant worked out of CA's Melbourne headquarters for much of 2008 developing the concept for submission to the ICC, but questions over the protection of "icon" Test series and the Indian Premier League within the model prompted consternation among many of the game's powerbrokers.
CA chief executive James Sutherland, a leading advocate for the championship format, predicted the post-2012 Test landscape would closely resemble the current FTP, with boards afforded the flexibility of scheduling bi-lateral series within a six- to seven-year cycle.
"There is a bit of focus on the FTP post-2012, and my feel at the moment is that there's not a big appetite for the Test championship model," Sutherland told Cricinfo. "Whether that changes in the future I don't know, but as of right now it seems that there is more focus on FTP enhancement after 2012 than a whole new model.
"If you look closely at the FTP as it stands you see that some teams play each other on four-year cycles and others on two-year cycles. From what I'm hearing, we'll something not terribly different to that. We did put a bit of thought into (the championship format) ... and the ICC management were quite keen on the concept. But it hasn't been looked upon as being the right mix or the right way to progress."
Sutherland, meanwhile, hinted strongly that Australia would only play their scheduled 2010 Test series against Pakistan at a neutral venue. Ijaz Butt, the PCB chairman, said this week he expected cricket would return to Pakistan by the end of 2009, but Sutherland insisted CA was comfortable with the notion of a neutral venue, most likely to be England.
"They know we are interested in the idea of playing at a neutral venue but it is up to the PCB to talk to the potential host nations," Sutherland said. "I know there have been some talks between the ECB and the PCB, but I'm not sure how far they've gone, or whether they've discussed dates and venues."
An Australian delegation of Michael Brown, Steve Bernard and Paul Marsh were among those to complete a safety inspection tour of Dubai and Abu Dhabi ahead of Australia's one-day series against Pakistan in April. They will now head to England to inspect facilities ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 and the Ashes.