Steve Waugh was still captain of Australia when James Sutherland and Paul Marsh had one of the very first serious discussions about an official league structure for international cricket.

It had been Marsh, partially inspired by the debates and context he’d seen around Australian football, who put together a basic ODI league arrangement and passed it on to Sutherland. As an indicator of how long ago all this was, Kenya and Zimbabwe were both included, and there wasn’t any thought of T20s.

Steve Waugh was still captain of Australia when James Sutherland and Paul Marsh had one of the very first serious discussions about an official league structure for international cricket.

“Paul had a model, which I adored, and it has been a very long time trying to sell the virtues of it in 1 form or another, and of course it’s extended to Test cricket,” Sutherland said. “I am not ashamed in any way to give him credit for that version and that notion that has finally been accepted, albeit in slightly different form. A fantastic thing for the game.”

About 2004, Sutherland hauled the concept to global discussions at the ICC, graduating quite soon from ODIs to Tests.

“I understand even back then Australia were worried about one-day cricket particularly, but at the ICC we were concerned about the Test format,” Richardson recalled. “There was a period in which the Ashes was sort of good enough for England and Australia so far as Test cricket is worried, so that they were not as desperate to have something that gave Test cricket additional context.

“England and Australia players always spoke about’we are going to win the Ashes’ or’that’ll be a highlight in our professions’, whereas a South African player or a Test player from any other nation, they didn’t have that circumstance. Right back in those early days, we had been hoping to think of ways we can put in context over and above only the rankings.”

Nothing underlines the litany of divergent agendas and interests at the heart of global cricket quite like the fact it took another 15 years for the World Test Championship (WTC) to finally become, beginning with the Ashes battle between England and Australia.

Why did it take so long to become approved, what were the challenges, and also what, in the end, shifted them?
For Richardson, the attraction of the idea was linked not just to South Africa’s lack of major series, but also memories of his childhood, watching the memorable pair of Centenary Tests between England and Australia, in 1977 in the MCG and 1980 at Lord’s.

“In my age, everything was so new, so to win a Test series against England, or India, or some of the teams was in itself something special. Australia, specifically, I played four string against in my time. So it probably didn’t hit me too far as a participant then, but definitely in my time in ICC I saw the requirement when Sri Lanka were enjoying West Indies or even Bangladesh, in case Test cricket would be to survive in these countries we needed much larger context.

“If we’re going to continue saying we need to maintain three formats of this game going, and make it appealing to gamers, then we have got to give an opportunity to Test players to also call themselves planet Test champions.

“Another thing that went through my mind was a youngster, I can recall those Centenary Test matches that took place in Australia and one in England. I recall seeing those men, Rod Marsh and most of them included in that Centenary Test, and thinking’geez, that was a special occasion’. So to have a World Test Championship league after which a World Test Championship one-off final, I had been considering those types of matches, and also the Champions League football final, in which you have one match, if you go for this, it is a celebration of soccer for essentially a whole week.”

The hurdles to the idea were quickly evident. First of all, they were things of management. The idea of being advised by the ICC what the schedule would be, adjusted for any amount of time without flexibility, was anathema to the majority of members – even people who supported the idea in theory.

For example, between New Zealand’s last Boxing Day Test in Melbourne in 1987 and also the one they are due to play at the end of 2019, England and India have played MCG Tests no fewer than seven days each. Such imbalances, and the desire of boards to keep themcentral to the championship spent so long as only an

Matters got as far as a formal release to get a tournament, even a logo late at 2013, also intends to scrap the ODI Champions Trophy to make space for it. But the pushback from associates to this idea in particular, and Lorgat in general, was to eventually ferment into the Big Three takeover in 2014.

“I believe all three of the Big Three, India added, have been in favour of Test cricket,” Richardson explained. “And they introduced a Test fund available to states to allow them to play Test cricket at which it wasn’t feasible from a financial point of view, therefore it wasn’t that they were against Test cricket, I just don’t think they had been sold on the idea of a league with a one-off Evaluation closing.

“The bottom line has been members rely a lot on revenues generated from ICC events, India create a lot out of their bilateral Test show anyway, they do not necessarily need an ICC occasion or did not back then feel the need for any greater context than they had. So, at that time, of course you’re going to make a lot more income from a Champions Trophy than you would a one-off World Test Championship final. I think that it was purely that, a worry that we wouldn’t generate enough cash for the members.”

When Shashank Manohar replaced N Srinivasan as the chairman of the ICC at 2015, the World Test Championship returned to the agenda. Richardson was by this time that the ICC’s chief executive, and Sutherland was at the 15th year of his CA tenure. As with many things in global diplomacy, self-interest came into the bargain.

“I think it was finally triggered by the simple fact that the value of the rights to bilateral show, in particular Test series, had gone or was at risk of moving down,” Richardson explained. “There was an extra need to make that circumstance and of course when that need was there, we jumped on the chance.

“Subsequently introducing T20 World Cups every second year, the increase in value of this 50-over World Cup, I think members said’well, ok, we can still accommodate a World Test Championship and we can eliminate the Champions Trophy’, and that’s how it materialised.

“The argument that eventually won the evening was if you’ve got context, the value of certain series that were previously frowned upon or looked down upon will increase simply because they are part of a tournament. After that point was realised or accepted as a good debate, then the resistance to a Test league went away.”

Sutherland, also, was happy. “It’s not often in cricket that you get an idea the very first time you put it all there. Cricket people tend to be a conservative bunch and they don’t like change, even if it’s staring them in the face as being bleeding obvious.”

In attempting to maintain the”hotch-potch” of bilateral tours, a league table and a determination on the best group on the planet all within a short enough period for followers to maintain track, the first idea was to divide Test cricket to two branches. In theory, it worked well. In theory.

“The reason for seven and five was everybody agreed that when we had a league table running from a longer period than two decades it would become too awkward and people wouldn’t be able to keep the circumstance together,” Richardson explained. “Afterward, from a practical perspective, fitting in more than six series in two years could have been very hard. So that was initially, probably more than anything, and also trying to make sure Test cricket is as competitive as possible, those might have been the factors for two branches.

“But we must also acknowledge if you’re a country that dropped from first branch to next branch, you can see the value of the rivalry from a rights point of view diminishing significantly, and countries might be in trouble. I am able to understand why countries in danger of being at that second branch would vote against it.”

Emotions never conducted higher than through this argument, for it moved into the crux of what Test cricket intended to many associates – an elevated status. “We believe this to make it a top seven – you’re virtually relegating the bottom three to a different level. We believe that if you are a Full Member, there can’t be two tiers. One reason is to maintain sustainability of the market of cricket. If India belongs to eighth position, what happens?”

What occurred was Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe joined forces with all the BCCI to obstruct the proposal, forcing Richardson, the ICC operations manager Geoff Allardice, and members back to the table. Their outcome was imperfect, but prevented the formalisation of a two-speed economy.

Among those was a points system where each Test series would be worth the exact same number of points, whether two, three, four or five matches long (this, to ensure each Evaluation has value). Additionally, the only way Pakistan and India can play one another is for the two countries to qualify for the final, which is the only game of the tournament billed strictly as an ICC event. Commercial rights all games are kept by associates as under normal bilateral terms.

“The difficulty with nine teams is that there’s not enough time for everybody to play everybody else at a two-year interval, so we’ve settled on this as maybe not the perfect league arrangement, but certainly as best as we can attain at this point,” Richardson explained. “I believe we will still have the two best Test teams at the final.

“I’m hoping that it’s a start and people will see it and they will enjoy the World Test Championship closing as a one-off game and then if changes have to be made it can grow from there. It is like drafting a newspaper, you’ve got to find the initial draft on paper . That’s the toughest part, once it is there, you may then look at it, examine it and improve it in the future.”

The start of the World Test Championship, with the context it will provide, also marked the end of Richardson’s ICC tenure – Sutherland having abandoned his post at CA in 2018. Theirs was a very long struggle, sometimes put on hold, but always kept in the back of the brain for the right moment. Allardice, was in CA whenever the pursuit started, is presently in Richardson’s former surgeries post, also Sajdeh is on the board of USA Cricket.

“Enough that I can’t remember how many,” Richardson laughed when asked the number of drafts of this championship was binned. “I know how things move slowly. It’s not that easy, especially when you’ve got a board representing a lot of different nations, with sometimes varying interests. So things do take time, DRS took a long time to get approved by everyone.

“I’m just eager to see how it pans out and can not wait for that first final in 2021. Ideally we would have liked to give it much more of a splash on the promotion side but we had the World Cup and perhaps it is a good thing we simply let things increase, the curiosity and enthusiasm grow bit by bit, alongside the contest. After the fixtures start to get played and you find the log construction, ideally by the time 2021 comes around everybody will be really desperate and excited to become a part of that final.”

The last word on the World Test Championship into Waugh, captaining Australia when this saga started and mentoring Tim Paine’s team for the first series of the inaugural edition. For Australia’s great teams of the past, the concept of winning the world title in a final is something which was never able to be appreciated, and Waugh is known to think that the accomplishments of the teams he had been a part of are not as celebrated as they ought to be for this reason.

Undoubtedly, the 1999 World Cup win was definitive in terms of public memory than any range of Australia’s Test series victories under Waugh’s captaincy between 1999 and 2004.

“We’d have loved this,” Waugh said of a Evaluation final. “As a team, our players actually liked the big moments, the series where they had been playing one versus 2, where you understood the negative was second-best team and seeking to take your name. That brought the best out of the team, so unquestionably would have loved to be a part of that. I played for 18 years and many people said we had been the No. 1 Test side in the world, but I think unless you hold up a trophy or you’ll be able to reach that last game then you’re not really sure.”

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