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ICC race against time to complete World Test Championship as per schedule


ICC has decided not even to deliberate the future of the ongoing World Test Championship. 

Following the postponement of all qualifying events for Associate members for the 2021 T20 World Cup and the 2023 World Cup, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has decided not even to deliberate the future of the ongoing World Test Championship (WTC) during its Board meeting on March 29. The game’s global body is still optimistic about holding this year’s T20 World Cup in Australia as per schedule – in October-November – but given the global spread of coronavirus, uncertainty remains.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has suspended all professional cricket in the country until May 28 and with England scheduled to play their first Test of a three-match series against the West Indies on June 4, at the Oval, reworking the WTC calendar appears highly likely.

Bangladesh, too, are scheduled to host Australia for a two-Test series in June and if all those series are deferred, there might not be enough time to accommodate all the series for all nine teams by March 2021. The first cycle of the WTC ends in March next year, with the final due in June. Teams are supposed to play six series each.

When contacted by The Indian Express, a top ICC official said the upcoming Board meeting, via conference call, is unlikely to discuss a WTC rescheduling. “Those matters will not be taken up now. The upcoming meetings will deal with urgent matters like approval of the accounts, audited statements etc. that are required for Annual Conference,” the official said.

EXPLAINED | World Test Championship

Asked if the ICC would deal with the issues during its meetings in May, the official said: “Let’s see what happens. It depends on the situation of the globe (with regards to the coronavirus outbreak).”

At the moment, India top the WTC table with 360 points. But Australia breathe down their neck with 296 points and all other teams have the opportunity to climb up the ladder, given that they have enough games in hand. With no timeline available for the coronavirus problem to run its course, the ICC, it is learnt, will think about the future only after cricket resumes.

According to Dr Frank Atherton, the chief medical officer for Wales, the coronavirus outbreak might peak in UK in May-June. “The best guess is then a period of six to eight weeks of quite significant levels of transmission in the UK, with a tapering perhaps in July and August… So an upsurge in April, possible peak in May-June and a downturn later in the year,” Dr Atherton told reporters at Cardiff earlier this month.

Little wonder then that the All England Club has called an emergent meeting next week to decide if it is even viable to hold this year’s Wimbledon, due to start on June 29. The International Olympic Committee in agreement with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already decided to defer the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – due to begin on July 24 – until the summer of 2021.

Against this backdrop, the ICC might have a race against time to complete the first WTC cycle within the scheduled March 2021 deadline. This paper understands that if there’s not enough time to accommodate all the series, the entire cycle can be stretched. Then again, with the current Future Tours Programme (FTP) ending in 2023, an extension of the ongoing WTC cycle might create a serious problem in terms of holding the second edition of the Test Championship, due from 2021-2023, inside the current rights cycle.

As every team still has a fair chance to reach the WTC final – top two teams will get there – picking the finalists based on current standings is not an option. In worst-case scenario, declaring the entire first cycle null and void, subject to the ICC Board’s approval, is not ruled out.

“I think it is too soon to make a call on what happens,” a Pakistan Cricket Board official told this paper.

2020 T20 World Cup

The 2020 ICC T20 World Cup is scheduled to be held in Australia from October 18 to November 15. However, the Scott Morrison government in Australia has imposed a Covid-19 travel ban for all non-residents and non-citizens, which could remain for six months or longer. And this puts a question mark over the T20 World Cup, although the tournament is still seven months away.

“We are monitoring the situation closely with relevant authorities and will continue to do so. We are planning for the event to go ahead as scheduled,” an event spokesperson told The Indian Express.

Meanwhile, in a press release the ICC stated: “After careful evaluation of the current situation and with the health and well-being of the global cricket family the priority, all ICC qualifying events due to take place before 30 June will be postponed subject to further review. The decision has been taken in conjunction with Members and in line with the relevant government and public health authority advice.”

This puts on hold eight qualifying tournaments involving Associate members.

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