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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

ECB backs world Test championship

The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) says it supports the idea of introducing a world Test championship.

Haroon Lorgat, chief executive of the International Cricket Council (ICC), had claimed that England and India were blocking the initiative.

But the ECB's only reservations are believed to be over the event's format.

"We are fully engaged with the ICC over proposals for a world Test championship and are supportive in principle," an ECB spokesman said.

Cricket's governing body has been looking into ways of increasing the popularity of Test cricket, whose future is threatened by the rise of the Twenty20 game.

In July, the MCC's world cricket committee recommended the introduction of a world Test championship, involving teams playing each other over a four-year cycle, culminating in semi-finals and a final.

The ECB are believed to be concerned about spreading the tournament over such a long period, during which the strength of the teams would vary enormously.

The plans could also lead to lucrative series against the likes of Australia, India and South Africa being shortened to accommodate matches against lesser Test nations like Bangladesh and New Zealand.

The proposed starting date of 2012 could clash with the London Olympics.

But the ICC is determined to push the plan through in order to give greater importance to every Test series.

"I would like to convince people that the way to ensure Test cricket survives is through a championship model," Lorgat told the Guardian.

"The only two countries who do not see the argument are India and England, but debate is growing all the time.

"The MCC seem to have come out in favour but when I met the ECB recently it was the wrong time to tackle them in detail. They were too high on the Ashes."

While Test matches in England regularly attract full houses, attendances in most other Test-playing nations have been falling.

There is also concern about the increasing ambivalence towards Test cricket among players from certain nations.

An MCC survey among professional cricketers around the world revealed players coveted a lucrative Twenty20 deal with an Indian Premier League team above any other achievement.

All-rounder Andrew Flintoff recently retired from Test cricket, and rejected an England central contract in a bid to maximise his earnings from limited-overs cricket around the world.

"There's no doubt a Test championship would be of great benefit," added Lorgat.

"Let's say you and your mate are South African and Australian - and India are about to play Sri Lanka. If the result impacts on your team's championship standing you are bound to be more interested."

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