As reverberations continue amid the proliferation of cashed-up T20 franchise leagues, threatening the primacy of international cricket, smaller Full Members again are left feeling discouraged over their Test prospects.
The next Future Tours Programme (FTP) is set to be released soon, but much of its details have already been leaked to the press with the next cycle of long form cricket from 2023-27 built around two editions of the nine-team World Test Championship (WTC).
There are 12 Test nations but Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Ireland have been left out of a competition hoped to revitalize five-day cricket. Unsurprisingly, these trio of teams have been earmarked, according to the draft, substantially less Tests compared to those competing in the WTC.
Ireland, who have played just three Tests since becoming a Full Member in 2017 and none since 2019, have been allotted just 12 matches and none against England and Australia, who last year were reportedly keen on staging a one-off Test Down Under for the upcoming 2022-23 season.
Recently departed Cricket Ireland chair Ross McCollum told me earlier in the year that he hoped a one-off Test between Ireland and England could be a regular fixture, perhaps even an annual start to the English Test summer.
But with the increasing squeeze on space in cricket’s calendar, likely to be stretched to the brim with the influx of newly-minted T20 leagues and elongated established competitions such as the lucrative Indian Premier League, Ireland’s wish will likely be unfulfilled for the time being.
“The schedule is really tight for England,” Cricket Ireland high performance director Richard Holdsworth told me. “We have a good relationship with the ECB and been trying to finalize fixtures, but the window is narrow.”
Although Ireland will have a lean Test period from 2023-27, the four-year stretch after that might be more fruitful amid several proposed infrastructure developments but things should be clearer when the ICC’s next financial model is revealed – possibly by year’s end.
“We definitely want to play Test cricket but it’s hard to commit until we know what our share of distribution will be,” Holdsworth said. “There might be more money in the pot and then we can reassess and possibly host more Tests.
“Currently, we don’t have permanent infrastructure and have to put on portable structures and seats, which costs about 500,000 Euros. That’s the constraints we are working against.”
Cricket Ireland has been a major advocate for the WTC to comprise a promotion-relegation second division, which would possibly involve top Associates, but that proposal has seemingly been discarded for the foreseeable future.
“Promotion and regulation would have added to the commerciality of the ICC,” Holdsworth said. “We pushed hard for it because it would have given Tests context for us, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe.
“There needs to be ways at making it more commercially viable and attractive to broadcasters.
“We will keep trying to play more Tests but will focus for now on the two formats that do have context.”
As fears escalate over international cricket’s future amid the rise of wealthy T20 leagues, with its deep pockets alluring to players increasingly facing the dilemma of franchise over country, calls have renewed for the ICC to resurrect its Test Cricket Fund for cash-strapped Full Members.
With two biannual payments totalling more than $1 million, the fund aimed to “encourage and support Test match cricket” outside India, England and Australia but was scrapped amid an overhaul of the financial model in 2016-17.
“There needs to be a Test fund to encourage teams to play,” Holdsworth said. “It will be sad if only four or five teams end up playing it.”
With Tests relatively scarce in the near future, Ireland are committed to strengthening Associate countries through regular fixtures although signs are pointing to cricket’s warhorse of a format struggling for renewal.
“We owe it to the Associates to play countries like Scotland, UAE