The ICC have developed a new ODI structure which may add some relevance to what is now considered by many (bar the World Cup) to be an irrelevant format. It doesn’t have the entertainment factor of a T20, yet it is not as highly regarded as a Test match.
The new structure is to take a league format (almost resembling club and county cricket) where each country would play a three match ODI series against each other over a three year period. The new structure would include all ten Test playing nations plus Afghanistan, Ireland and one other associate member nation. This would amount to 36 ODIs with the fourth year reserved for World Cup preparations. The idea is to give bilateral series’ some context and something for fans to follow. However one of the problems teams may face with the series’ being played either at home or away is the big teams using their power to enforce a home series to gain advantage. Teams like Afghanistan are likely to struggle through the new tournament style structure. On the other hand they may benefit from the chance to play in other conditions especially for their World Cup campaign.
The new system would still allow other nations to progress as the team finishing last would be relegated into the tier two of international cricket, The World Cricket League Championship, after play-offs against the winner of the second league. Just as it would allow teams associate members to be promoted, it would also allow full member nations to be relegated. This may affect teams like Zimbabwe who only last week really struggled against a second-rate Indian team. Their 3-0 loss at home was one of the most comprehensive defeats in recent time.
The reforms are intended as a minimum schedule for each country and they are free to decide when the league matches are to be played. This should give teams enough freedom in their schedules whilst also maintaining inclusivity of some non-Test playing nations allowing them to develop. This would be extremely beneficial for associate nations regarding sponsorship and overall development, it would also mean the World Cup qualifier rounds could become a hell of a lot more interesting.
One other problem the new format could face is the constant conflict between the India and Pakistan. The problems between these two countries have meant series’ have been few and far between without a bilateral series being played since 2008. It could however give the Ashes ODI series more relevance with the Test series usually taking the limelight.
Decisions on the structure will be discussed further at the ICC annual conference at the end of the month. Hopefully, we will soon see associate members playing more top-class competitive cricket.