The Intercontinental Cup

Ahead of the recent ICC meeting there were murmurs of a possible return of the Intercontinental Cup, potentially as a second division to the World Test Championship with Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe participating alongside a handful of top associate teams.

As I mentioned in my previous column, there was no mention of this in the ICC media release that announced the expansion of the men's ODI and T20 World Cups. It seems that is because the ICC see expansion of the World Cups as a trade off for developing teams in the longer form.

In a recent interview with Cricinfo, ICC CEO Geoff Allardice said, "The recent decisions to expand the ODI and T20 World Cups for men and women is likely to see the focus being on developing more competitive Associate member teams in those two formats rather than the four-day format."

This is somewhat disingenuous. There need not be a trade off between World Cup expansion and having a second division of the World Test Championship. We can do both.

It is also clear that playing the longer form of the game can help develop more competitive teams in the shorter formats. Look at Afghanistan who, prior to playing in the Intercontinental Cup were largely a team of sloggers in the one-day format who were prone to collapsing and needing their excellent bowling attack to bail them out.

Playing the longer form helped instil them with a sense of discipline that carried through into ODI cricket and made them the team they are today. This can happen again for other associates.

Whether Test cricket can survive when it's becoming increasingly marginalised by T20 leagues is another debate for another time, but not providing a pathway into the World Test Championship for the teams not currently involved and not wanting to develop more Test playing teams does suggest that the ICC aren't all that interested.

Time wasting

Time wasting was a common topic of discussion on commentary during the recent England v New Zealand Test series. Over rates were terrible, with teams falling short of bowling the expected 90 overs in a day's play even when given an extra half-hour to do so. It's sometimes portrayed as something only the media are obsessed with, but it is short-changing the paying public. A Test match ticket is expensive in England.

As I write this column, I have just seen the Indian batsmen take a non-scheduled drinks break during the World Test Championship final. It is currently only 16 degrees Celsius in Southampton, so why do the players need an extra drink? This is time-wasting plain and simple but it is not being punished as such by the umpires.

We often see situations like this - for both sides - with players running on with messages from the dressing room, batsmen requesting new gloves (and sometimes not even changing them just to make clear that it's time-wasting) and various other methods of slowing down the game. They're far more prevalent at higher levels and it seems that the more you get paid for playing cricket the more you try and avoid actually playing it.

It isn't just an issue in the longer form of the game. T20s, which initially in England were always over and done in under three hours, can now regularly last over four hours. The paying public are still getting their money's worth in that case, but it can put some broadcasters off.

Umpires already have the power to impose penalty runs for time wasting but they almost never do so, no matter how blatant it is. Some have even suggested that the umpires rather than the fielding side are made responsible for the over rate with them losing 50% of their match fee if the rate isn't maintained.

Baseball has in recent years experimented with pitch clocks whereby a pitcher has to deliver the ball within a certain time after the ball becomes dead from the previous play. This seems like an obvious solution that could be implemented in cricket to stop time-wasting by the fielding side. If a bowler isn't running in within, say, 20 seconds (longer after a wicket) of the ball becoming dead then the umpire calls a no ball and the next delivery is a free hit for the batsman.

Time-wasting by the batting side would have to be handled delivery. Perhaps they could be given one time-out per session other than the scheduled drinks break with any further time-outs taken costing them five penalty runs to the fielding side. Allowances would obviously be made for injuries.

The days of teams being able to get through a 60 overs per side match in one-day as in the old NatWest Trophy in England are probably long gone, but surely they can do better than the current situation?

A feeling of normality

The other week, I was watching the Netherlands v Ireland ODI Super League series and following and reporting on an associate tournament at a distance in the shape of the Kwibuka women's cricket tournament. It was like life in pre-Covid times. There was even a Test match on TV with a packed house at Edgbaston featuring a traditional England batting collapse.

This feeling of normality - or normalcy if you prefer - has been hard to come by in these Covid times. As the roll out of vaccines continues and the world begins to open up there will hopefully be more of these moments of normality.

It is, of course, a rather privileged position to be in. The vaccine roll out has not been consistent around the world and the pandemic is still raging in many countries. This feeling of normality is very much a "western" thing at the moment and the pandemic won't be over until it's over everywhere.