The International Cricket Council (ICC) have announced the creation of a play-off system that could give minnows in the game, such as Ireland and Scotland, the chance to play Test match Cricket in the future.
The ICC Test Challenge, as it will be called, will take place every four years. The first of which will be played in 2018 and will take place between the lowest ranked Test nation and the winners of the ICC Intercontinental Cup, a separate tournament between all associate members.
The lowest ranked Test nation on the 31st December 2017 will play in the four five day Tests, two at home and two away. The Intercontinental Cup is due to end in 2017.
For many cricketers this will give them a chance and hope that they can play at the highest level for their birth countries rather than trying to pursue careers with other countries. Perhaps Ireland and Scotland are the best examples of this. It will also give so-called lesser cricketers a huge opportunity to ply their trade on the biggest stage of all.
Players such as Eoin Morgan, Ed Joyce and Boyd Rankin for Ireland and Gavin Hamilton for Scotland have grasped the opportunity to play for England in the hope of playing International Cricket at the highest level. This has often been to the detriment of their birth nation.
England have benefited the most from the lack of Test opportunities for associate members and, in truth, will probably continue to do so despite this announcement. As the ICC Test Challenge will only take place every four years, and then only by the winners of the Intercontinental Cup, it would seem probable that potential England players playing for Ireland and Scotland will still try to pledge their International future to England if they feel they stand a chance of playing Test Cricket more regularly.
This new opportunity will appeal most of all to the likes of Ireland who have won four of the last five Intercontinental Cups. Afghanistan won the cup in 2010. Ireland are a strong associate member and could prove to be a handful for whoever is the lowest ranked Test side in 2018 if they win the Intercontinental Cup.
The lowest ranked Test side will certainly not want to lose to an associate member as it could prove embarrassing.
All the associate members who competed in the last Intercontinental Cup - Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland, United Arab Emirates, Namibia, Canada, Kenya and Netherlands - will be excited by this announcement.
There is no doubt that this opportunity will increase the importance of the Intercontinental Cup as it gives all involved a huge opportunity. It will also increase the coverage of Cricket around the World and should help improve the game in the associate member countries. It could also give these nations better media coverage and hopefully inject some much needed financial help. All these positives can only serve to benefit the game in these countries.
It will be interesting to see how close these games will prove to be as the associate members are capable of providing shocks in One-Day Internationals, as The Netherlands showed against England, but in the longer form of the game it will prove difficult. Perhaps given time it will narrow the gap between the Test nations and the associates and could be more of a regular event.
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