The last few years have been quite interesting for international cricket. At a time when several leagues are mushrooming around the world, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has been able to come up with a World Test Championship to revive the longer format.
While the inaugural edition was a success despite COVID-19 disruption, the global body now has bigger plans to develop the game across formats. The ICC CEO, Geoff Allardice, was recently in India to watch the Indian Premier League along with the chairman of the organisation, Greg Barclay.
During the tour, they also met Indian broadcasters in Mumbai to discuss the media rights for the next cycle.
Sportstar caught up with Allardice in Gandhinagar on the morning of the Indian Premier League final to know more about the ICC’s plan to grow the game, tournaments in the pipeline and more…
The World Test Championship was a success in the last cycle. What are plans to make the current cycle more relevant and interesting so that the format survives?
The second edition, we are about half way through and we have a year to go. The table is in an interesting position. Australia and South Africa are first and second. Then we have India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. I think the countries that weren’t necessarily in the top of the table in the first edition, are now in the top-half.
That’s the aim of the Test Championship — to bring context to all the Test cricket that’s being played. We were very happy with the way the first edition finished. The final was an excellent match and really befitted the occasion. The second edition started off well. When we are talking about the FTP (Future Tours Program) beyond 2023, members are very supportive of continuing the concept of Test championship.
Despite it being a World Test Championship, India and Pakistan have not played any bilateral series against each other for nearly a decade. So, in terms of the competition, how’s there a level playing field?
What we looked at is that each of the countries was playing a certain number of Test matches each year and the way that played out in the FTP — you averaged about three series per year.
Obviously, the situation with India and Pakistan is beyond the control of the ICC but in terms of cricket, both countries are very accustomed to Test cricket and would want to do well in the competition.
Earlier, an ICC event would be held once every four years, but for the last few years, an ICC tournament is being held every year. While it has helped in terms of revenue generation, how challenging has it been to create that competitiveness and excitement?
We have got three formats. We consciously decided to schedule a T20 World Cup for both men and women. When we look at the next cycle and look at expanding teams in both men and women’s tournaments, we want to broaden the focus for all the teams — including the associate members — within a three-year period. We still have a 50-over World Cup for women which is very successful and is still a major world event. We have introduced the World Test championship as well. So, across the formats, the frequency of competitions is high and we try to make sure that we have competitive teams. As we expand the T20 World Cup, we want to make sure that all the teams can win matches, cause upsets and that’s probably the focus in the next cycle.
The real test: India’s Mohammed Shami of India celebrates after casting Kiwi batsman BJ Watling in the ICC World Test Championship Final at The Hampshire Bowl in Southampton, England. “We were very happy with the way the first edition finished. The final was an excellent match and really befitted the occasion,” says Allardice. – Getty Images
During the World Test Championship cycle last year, quality of the wickets often came under the scanner. Even though it is the focus of the member nations to ensure that high-quality wickets are prepared for the bilaterals, what’s the ICC doing to ensure there’s a level playing field and the home team does not enjoy an advantage?
The conditions vary, naturally, from country to country. They play on different types of pitches and soils. You’re not going to see a uniform set of conditions or games unfolding the same way. I think the range of conditions is very important. Some places you go favor spin bowlers and some favor fast bowlers. That’s part of the beauty of Test cricket. In ODI cricket, you go around the world and the conditions are more similar. Test cricket, of course, conditions vary.
With so many leagues popping up, the bilateral series has often been squeezed. Has the ICC done something about it to ensure that the bilateral series regains its importance?
The Future Tours Program for both men and women is being developed at the moment. It is always a balance between the time for ICC events, the time for international bilateral cricket, and the time for domestic leagues. There’s movement in all of those areas.
The domestic leagues and bilateral cricket — the scheduling of those and the structure of those is in the control of the member countries. While we facilitate the construction of the FTP, each member is open to schedule bilateral cricket and we try to structure around that.
The landscape is changing all the time in domestic leagues. With expansion of the number of teams, number of matches, etc, you are going to see that balance between the three in the Future Tours programme.
We have the women’s U-19 World Cup next year. How much will it benefit the development of the game?
I think it’s a very important strategic decision to introduce the U-19 Women’s T20 World Cup and the first one being in South Africa next January. One of the things we want to do is create pathways for female players in the game. We are able to get a lot of girls playing the game at school and being able to transition them through various squads into senior cricket and retain them in the game and provide a career path in the future. I think it’s really important. So, in a lot of countries the U-19 World Cup will provide the focus for a development pathway, particularly with the younger players. I think a number of countries will benefit from progressive women’s cricket.
Recently, an ICC delegation had a series of meetings in Mumbai over the media rights for the next cycle. What’s the plan ahead?
We have finalized a cycle for men and women and U-19s through to 2031. We have finalized the men’s venue up to 2031 but we are in the process of identifying venues for the first four years of women’s events. We will be selling out our commercial rights alongside those tournaments over the next 18 months and one of the things we wanted to do was use the opportunity to meet with our potential broadcast partners for that period in Mumbai over the last few days. There were some good meetings and there is a lot of interest in cricket and ICC events are valued very highly.
While India will host a few men’s events in the next FTP cycle, any plans of awarding a few women’s tournaments too?
We are going through that process at the moment. We get submissions for hosting tournaments, I think they are due by July 1. So, we will see what comes at that point. Obviously, women’s cricket and the progress of women’s cricket in India is very important to the game globally and to the BCCI. You had the Women’s T20 Challenge final in Pune. Staging women’s events or any cricketing events in India draw a lot of interest, so we will see what goes through on July 1.
In 2025, Pakistan will be hosting the Champions Trophy. What efforts will the ICC take to ensure that teams — especially India — travel there and the tournament is held smoothly?
We have awarded the events to different countries across the next eight years. One of the things we wanted to do with this cycle was to take our events to more members and to more regions than perhaps we had in this cycle at the moment. It’s been great to see Pakistan hosting international teams again. They had a successful tour where Australia played three Test matches and some white ball cricket earlier this year. With the majority of members having toured Pakistan over the last couple of years, they have been very good hosts. So it’s good to see international cricket back. We have made the decision with regards to staging the event there — that decision was taken in November and what happens between now and then, it’s way off. We have a number of events in 2023 — one in the West Indies, USA in 2024 — so that’s what we are focusing on. We will see what happens in 2025, it’s still a long time.
Over the last five-six years, the ICC has been majorly about the top three — India, Australia and England. But there have been demands that other member countries be included too. Recently, PCB chief Ramiz Raja proposed a new tournament involving top-four teams. Your comments…
There is a base of member countries that are very important to international cricket. They have got to continue to be strong in the game and have strong business models established in their countries. All we are trying to do is create playing structures where other countries get the opportunity if they are good enough on the field to progress through the system and go up the ladder. Like any sporting competition, you’ve got some teams getting better and some teams getting worse.
We have to keep giving that opportunity for the countries to come through and that’s part of the reason for the expansion of the number of teams in some of our events in the next cycle. I’m sure the business models of the historically strong full members will continue to be very successful in the future.
The Women’s World Cup saw a huge response, and in India, the IPL final and the women’s tournament witnessed a huge turnout. Cricket will now be part of the Commonwealth Games, but amid all that, there are concerns about teams like Afghanistan, which is muddled by politics and regime change. How do you plan to handle the situation?
The common thread with all of that is trying to see opportunities to, and grow the game. I think there are probably more people watching cricket now than 10 years ago. Thanks to the emergence of domestic leagues in a number of countries, cricket as a whole is doing very well. We see an opportunity to develop the women’s game further. The opportunity to grow the women’s game is an important part of the strategy, plus providing playing opportunities to more members in major events. So, while the established countries take the ground and (host) World Cups, the effect it has on smaller countries if they can qualify for the World Cup, or if they can host a few games in the World Cup, is significant. That would be our focus.
Afghanistan is going through a turbulent time. The ICC’s objective is to promote cricket in conjunction with their member countries. The Afghanistan Cricket Board is trying to find its feet in terms of how to run cricket within that country and also play international cricket. There are challenges around the women’s game given some of the government’s policies that have been announced, but we want to support our members and see how we can plan around the opportunity to develop the women’s game. But they have to upgrade within the environment in their country and we will try and work with them to get a result in that area in terms of developing women’s cricket.