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Despite the rollout of vaccines, bubbles and quarantines will continue to be unavoidable in the sporting world for the foreseeable future.
Cricket, with so much of its revenue derived from fixtures involving international players, is no exception.
Bangladesh are currently hosting a depleted West Indies outfit, with most of the tourists’ best players making themselves unavailable due to a combination of the risk of catching coronavirus and bubble fatigue.
Meanwhile, South Africa just suffered their second straight tour cancellation, ruining their revenue and scheduling, and leaving Australia’s chances of qualifying for the World Test Championship final hanging by a thread.
Aside from player welfare, there is currently a fixture backlog that has already resulted in the restructuring of the WTC format. Several of these issues can be addressed through four nations series held in three host countries. Teams would play all three formats.
The purpose of such an approach would be to offer sides three opponents with only one period of quarantine. Matches could be played over a shorter timetable, minimising time away from family.
If it were a simple issue of geography and maximising revenue, Australia could host New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland. India could host Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and England could host Pakistan, Ireland and West Indies.
However, England’s viability as a host venue is diminishing, and a number of teams within each grouping have played one another too recently to justify a repeat.
Bangladesh and Afghanistan have had their most recent Australian tours cancelled, so they should be brought Down Under at the same time as England. India could host South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand. That would leave Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe, most likely in the UAE.
New Zealand, with the virus contained, would host in the next round, along with two other nations, pending pandemic circumstances.
To reduce travel, games would be played at venues close to one another whenever possible, such as the WACA and Optus Stadium when Australia is hosting, and if enough change rooms are available, T20 double-headers at one ground.
(Credit: Wolliwoo/CC BY-NC 2.0)
Tests would be run simultaneously in each group so teams get equal breaks before their next game, with coverage overlap avoided where possible through pink-ball Tests. Series would be a minimum of two Tests, with only the last two Tests in longer series counting towards the WTC points.
White-ball fixtures would preferably be played as tournaments, with the goal of fulfilling ODI World Cup Super League fixtures. As that involves the Dutch, they, along with Scotland, UAE, Hong Kong, Nepal and whoever else is available could also participate.
An added incentive is that those sides could provide practice matches for the squad members of the Test-playing nations.
Money is obviously a concern, with multiple teams requiring flights and accommodation, as well as non-marquee fixtures held at neutral venues in variable time zones in front of restricted crowds. The ICC would need to underwrite the tours but could control the distribution of revenue. The alternative is fewer matches, more quarantining and more player withdrawals.
Ultimately, the ICC needs to decide if it wants to continue with the current unstable tour schedule or to try to deliver as many fixtures as possible to all teams while reducing the burden on its players.