Name a one-day or Twenty20 International you can honestly recall in any level of detail that was outside of an official ICC World Cup tournament?
A handful at best is my guess.
And yet we are again amid a whole bevy of these meaningless friendly internationals which carry on continuously throughout the non-World Cup years.
Australia and England will soon embark on yet another five-match ODI tournament, while the New Zealand Black Caps are visiting South Africa in their respective winters for a three-match ODI competition. Not long after that the Proteas head off to India for five ODIs while England travel to the UAE for three.
In between all of these ODIs, numerous T20 internationals have also been thrown into the mix for good measure. It is a continuous diet of coloured clothed internationals with little significance apart from maybe World Cup tournament preparation.
Men’s cricket can learn from the experience of its female counterpart by introducing more purpose and importance to these pointless contests.
The women have recently implemented the 2014–16 ICC Women’s Championship which determines qualification for 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup.
The top four teams at the conclusion of nominated 2014-16 home-and-away tournaments automatically qualify for the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup. The bottom four teams will then face six qualifying teams for the remaining four World Cup places.
The current Women’s Ashes series is also now being decided via a points system which takes into account ODI and T20 matches as well as Tests.
All ideas that can be applied in some way to the men’s versions of the ‘Pyjama Game’.
Cricket could also learn from other sports like rugby union and introduce the equivalent of New Zealand’s historic Ranfurly Shield.
The ‘Log o’ Wood’ is a century old challenge trophy in the Shaky Isles’ domestic rugby union competition. It is based on a challenge system, rather than a league or knockout competition. The holding union must defend the shield in nominated challenge matches, and a successful challenger becomes the new holder of the Shield.
An ODI and T20 Challenge trophy would provide the ICC with an opportunity to inject further significance into these friendly internationals. It would also generate revenue through naming rights for sponsors and former legends of the game e.g. Sachin Tendulkar Challenge ODI Shield or Garfield Sobers T20 Challenge Trophy.
The current Ranfurly Shield holder is Hawke’s Bay – a second tier New Zealand provincial side.
ICC would similarly offer its own second tier sides (such as Afghanistan, Canada or Ireland) with a realistic opportunity of winning important silverware and challenge for the T20 Challenge Trophy.
These concepts would give the current friendly ODI and T20 Internationals much more purpose, more punters would come through the turnstiles and TV ratings would increase
And maybe, just maybe, it would further limit the risk of players being tempted by the foibles of those awful match fixers which no doubt still frequent our great game.