If ICC chief executive officer David Richardson has his way, Nepal could be playing the second-tier Test cricket as early as 2019. Richardson revealed that ICC could unveil plans for the introduction of two divisions in Test cricket, and, potentially, a number of new Test nations within a next few weeks.

The ESPN Cricinfo reported that ‘promotion and relegation could be introduced into Test cricket’ as Richardson believed that ‘Test cricket required added ‘meaning and context’ if it is to survive.

Accepting the diminishing returns of current bilateral series, Richardson offered the prospect of Test status to the likes of Nepal, Ireland and Afghanistan, cricket’s most popular website reported.

“There’s a general realisation now that, if we’re going to keep Test cricket going well into the future, we can’t just say it’s going to survive on its own,” Richardson said while speaking to promote the 2017 Champions Trophy. “Unless we can give some meaning to these series beyond the rankings and a trophy, then interest in Test cricket will continue to waiver. The same applies if we allow uncompetitive Test cricket to take place too often.”

“If we really want Test cricket to survive, we can’t have the number of Test teams diminishing. We have to create a proper competition structure which provides promotion and relegation and opportunities to get to the top.

“The beauty of leagues is that, in theory, you will have a more competitive competition and teams playing each other that are of a more equal standard.”

While the details of the plan remain open to debate – Richardson hopes they will be agreed by the end of this month – there is a favored option, involving the introduction of a top division of seven teams and a second division of five teams. It is likely that the plan would see one team promoted and relegated in each two-year cycle, though it remains possible that a second team could be promoted if the ICC embraced a play-off model with the sixth team in Division One playing the second team in Division Two.

Catalysts behind change

There are two catalysts to the changing mood of an ICC board who, only a few months ago, appeared to have little concern for any interests beyond their own. The first is the election of the new chairman, Shashank Manohar, who seems genuinely committed to growing cricket as a global game and running the ICC as a governing body for the good of all 105 members rather than a favored few, the site reported.

The second is the diminishing financial value of bilateral series to the Full Member boards, which has allowed Manohar fertile ground on which to plant his ideas.

Opportunities for Associate nations

The combination has offered the prospect of unprecedented opportunities for Associate nations in the next few years. “The new chairman has gone out of his way to reverse the sense that the ‘Big Three’ are in control,” Richardson said. “There is a bigger desire to regard the ICC as an organisation with 105 members, not just 10 Full Members who are a select, secluded club with no one else allowed in. We want to be more encompassing and allow opportunities for Associate Members to graduate.

“We have 105 members at the moment and we want 105 members to be able to play T20 internationals. Obviously not all against each other at the same time but everybody should want to play the T20 format and it will appeal to all of our members. Then the better ones, the top 30 to 35, would graduate to the 50-over game and be involved in global competitions catering to approximately that number of teams.

“And then Test cricket is towards the other end of the spectrum, where the top 18 teams perhaps are playing a multi-day format of the game, be it the Intercontinental Cup or part of a Test league.

“Countries that you never thought would have ambitions to play multi-day cricket actually have got the potential. Countries like Nepal, Afghanistan and Ireland are keen. But Ireland and Nepal aren’t getting any opportunities. Zimbabwe hardly play. West Indies are focusing more on T20 cricket. Creating a competition and a financial model that underpins it, it will allow them the resources to fund a team and provide incentives for their players to be available to play Test cricket for them.”