The ICC has announced changes to the Intercontinental Cup which will see the introduction of two divisions featuring as many as 11 teams.
As revealed by Cricinfo earlier this month, Zimbabwe will also feature in the tournament, although this is still subject to ratification by Zimbabwe Cricket. Given that the country's participation in the tournament was one of the requirements in its attempts to return to the Test fold, it seems highly unlikely the board will reject the idea.
The decision, made by the ICC's development committee, means that Zimbabwe will join Ireland, Canada, Kenya, the Netherlands, Afghanistan and Scotland in a seven-team top division. The United Arab Emirates, Namibia, Bermuda and Uganda will play each other for the ICC Intercontinental Shield.
There will be a total of US$250,000 in prize money for the Associate teams with US$100,000 for the winners of the ICC Intercontinental Cup and US$40,000 for the runners-up. The winners of the ICC Intercontinental Shield will collect US$25,000 with the runners-up pocketing US$10,000 and matches in both divisions will have the prize of US$3,000 for an outright win.
While there was some speculation that the competition would be expanded to include one division of as many as ten sides, it is believed that this would have required too much of a commitment from what are essentially amateur players. It would also have had a significant budgetary on both the participants and the ICC.
By splitting the competition, it allows more countries to participate while ensuring that the commitment of them all remains manageable. The structure means that countries in the top division will play one less match than before.
'I'm delighted the Development Committee has been so positive and expansive in its approach to the ICC Intercontinental Cup, the flagship multi-day event for teams below Test level," said ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat. "This new format will allow the top six Associate teams to maintain a high standard of even competitiveness.
"Following the task team recommendations, we are in discussions with Zimbabwe Cricket for it to field a team in the competition and if it does so then I believe that will benefit all concerned. It will see the top six Associate teams come up against good quality, professional opposition and provide the Zimbabwean players with additional opportunities to play multi-day cricket, something essential for them to chart a course back to the Test arena.
"I am also delighted that, for the first time, the event has prize money for the Associate teams. It will assist in their ongoing process to professionalise their operations and that, in turn, will help them continue to raise their playing standards."
However, there will be no relegation and promotion between the divisions, and it is unclear whether matches in the Shield will be first-class, although the expectations are that they will be.