Just when should a cricketing nation be awarded test status? Since 1981, the world of international cricket has expanded from six to ten teams - Sri Lanka (1981), South Africa (1991), Zimbabwe (1992) and Bangladesh (2000). There's no doubt that Sri Lanka and South Africa are highly competitive and deserve their status. Zimbabwe, however, has been exceptionally disappointing with its player walk-outs and retirements, corrupt board and general national deterioration all but eliminating the potential that the nation once had. Bangladesh hasn't done well in its first 7 years, but the same could be said of Sri Lanka's first ten years so there is still time.
In my opinion, Zimbabwe should be relegated back to Associate status and prevented from playing Test cricket again until such time as they can prove their strength. But who should relpace them... if at all? Why not Ireland, whose performances in the World Cup gone by were one of the competition's few highlights? Why not Kenya or the Netherlands?
There needs to be an easy and efficient way in which Associate nations can be raised to international competition without having to disappoint. International cricket is a highly competitive sport and the associate countries (Bermuda, Canada, Kenya, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland) have all found top level cricket excruciating (Ireland's World Cup success notwithstanding). It is not progressive or profitable for these nations to play matches against Test teams when the result is foreordained.
So what is my solution? An international Test and One-day team, made up of the best players in the world who are not from any of the Test-playing countries. Let's call this team "The World"
The idea is simple. This team would have immediate Test and One-day status and compete on an equal footing with other Test playing nations. You would see matches between Australia and "The World", or England and "The World", and so on. Moreover, The World would be a completely professional outfit that pays its players to play, creating an immediate professionalism amongst its players. It would also play the same amount of international matches as other top teams (eg 12 Tests and 30 ODIs in a year). It would also compete in the World Cup.
The World team would draw its players from everywhere else in the world apart from the top teams. The World would not be able to select, for example, second or third-string Australian or Sri Lankan players, but it would be able to pick a player from, say, Cambodia, if they think he would perform well.
In practice, it means that the Associate members of the ICC (Bermuda, Canada, Kenya, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland) would no longer play matches against the top teams, but instead become the equivalent of "feeder clubs" for the World team. It means that the top players in these countries would no longer have to officially migrate overseas to a top cricket nation (like England) and then play there for a few years in order to "qualify" for that country... and then hope they're still good enough to be selected. Instead, these top players will have the opportunity to play top class cricket from the moment they are noticed.
Moreover, the World team's selection policy will be based solely around performance. In other words, only the best players will be selected. There will be no room for making political selections or "affirmative action" selections. The reason for this is obvious - the team will be competing at the top level and it has to be assumed that they will pick the top players. But another reason is also important.
If a country like Ireland, for example, continues to grow and develop its cricket, the chances are that the World team will begin to fill up with Irish players. As this continues, and as the World team begins to be dominated by the Irish, then it becomes more and more obvious that the ICC should seriously consider elevating Ireland to full international cricket status and join the other top teams in competing at Test and ODI level. If this happens, then the World team would lose its Irish players but then be able to pick replacements from other nations. Thus the reason for picking top players only is borne out in the policy of trying to determine which nation should be given full international status.
Where would the team be located? The best place would be to base the team in England during the Northern Summer, and then "tour" during the Southern Summer. The team would also play some of their international matches in the countries where many of the team members are located. If the team has lots of Irish, then some matches need to be played in Ireland; If the team has lots of Kenyans then some matches will be played in Kenya.
Locating the team in England during the Northen Summer will have lots of advantages, the first being access to the County cricket competition. My hope would be that the England and Wales Cricket Board relax their County selection rules so that County teams can freely select international-based players to play for them. This would allow top international players the chance to play regular first-class cricket, thus giving the English County competition to be the feeder for both the England Cricket team and the World Cricket team.
If people in England think that this process might "crowd out" potential English players, then perhaps one or two minor county teams could be added to the first class list (like Devon or Hertfordshire for example) to compensate.
Another advantage of being in England is that the World team could play against the top international teams regularly on Test-standard grounds - the same ones that England would play on. Additionally, tours during the Southern summer would be easier to organise since it would not require the juggling of all their Tests and ODIs over a 5-6 month period.
Being located in England would also fit in with nations doing three or four test tours in England. If India tours England and plays three tests, it can then stay and play three against the World team. If New Zealand are due to play England in three tests in the second half of the season, they can play against the World team in three tests in the first half of the season. An annual Test against England could also be arranged.
There is, of course, the question of finance. Who will pay for the team? Will the team be expected to be profitable in the same way as other national cricket teams are?
The team will be managed by the ICC. Funds from member nations will be diverted to the creation of the World team, which will also include medical staff and coaching personnel. The team will be selected by a panel that will be appointed by the ICC. If we assume that the World team performs well, then matches against other international sides will draw sponsorship and broadcast rights.
The idea of a World team is much better than the situation as it stands now. Although it might seem sad that teams like Ireland could lose their ODI status as a result of the World team, it would give their players the chance to perform regularly at top level and, hopefully, lead their country to be elevated to full international status. It would also give top players like Daan van Bunge, Ryan ten Doeschate, Eoin Morgan, Andrew White, and Niall O'Brien the chance to shine on the international stage (especially since some of them are better than current Bangladesh or Zimbabwe players). Given that past players like Gavin Hamilton and Ole Mortensen could probably have been regular Test players if given the chance, this idea is sound.
© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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