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There was no formal structure of international cricket until the early twenty-first century. It had long been traditional for countries, without any intervention from a body such as the International Cricket Council (ICC), to organise for themselves the various cricket matches. The ICC later committed the Test cricket playing nations to play each other in a programme of matches over a period of 10 years known as the Future Tours Programme (FTP). This system was set up to encourage some of the better-established countries to play the lesser nations more frequently.
Most Test matches and One-Day series take place in the form of "tours". In a tour, one nation travels to another and plays warm-up matches, first-class matches against domestic teams such as county or state teams, a series of Test matches against the host nation, and either a series of one-day matches against the host nation or a tournament involving the host nation and another touring nation. The "triangular tournament" format is often used when one tour is about to conclude and the other has just begun or may include one team only for that tournament. In the tournament, the three teams play each other either two or three times. The two teams with the most points (usually two points for a win, one point for a no-result or tie, and no points for a loss) qualify for the one-game final; the bonus point system is also sometimes used in a triangular tournament, including the Australian Tri-Series and the NatWest Series.
Test series can last from two to six matches. Six-match series were common in the 1970s and early 1980s, with the last six-match series to date taking place in 1997–98 between the West Indies and England. Ashes Test series in England were six-match affairs between 1981 and 1997, but Australia reverted to five matches in its home series from 1982–83. The most important series last four or five matches, while the less important ones last two to three matches. At most, a perpetual trophy is awarded to the winning team, or to both teams in the case of a drawn series. The Ashes (for England versus Australia) is the most famous perpetual trophy. Other perpetual trophies include:
- Frank Worrell Trophy (Australia-West Indies)
- Trans Tasman Trophy (Australia-New Zealand Test series)
- Chappell–Hadlee Trophy (Australia–New Zealand ODI series)
- Border-Gavaskar Trophy (Australia-India)
- Wisden Trophy (England-West Indies)
- Warne-Muralidaran Trophy (Australia-Sri Lanka)
- Basil D'Oliveira Trophy (England–South Africa)
- Pataudi Trophy (England-India)
The One-day series lasts from three to seven matches. Usually, the shorter one-day series are played at the same time as longer Test series – although the one-day matches and Test matches are usually played in groups. These days, it is rare that a Test series is interrupted by One Day Internationals. T20 Series last from one to three matches.
In addition to tours, nations may organise one-day matches at neutral venues. The Sahara Cup was a one-day series played annually between India and Pakistan in Toronto, until the Indian government ordered the suspension of all cricketing ties with Pakistan, which were revived in 2004. Similarly, a semiannual Triangular Tournament was organised at Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates. However, the tournament has lost its lustre because the overwhelming number of cricket matches has spoiled the pitch.
In contrast to the one-dayers, Tests are almost never held in neutral venues. A once-off triangular Test tournament was held in England in 1912, which saw South Africa play Australia in three tests at neutral venues, but otherwise it has only been security risks which have seen Tests played on neutral soil. Most notably, Pakistan has "hosted" Test series in England, the UAE and Sri Lanka in the 21st century. Security implications have also affected tours to Sri Lanka and tours to Zimbabwe in the past.
In addition to the one-day series and tournaments organised by the nations themselves, the ICC organises two One Day International tournaments. The World Cup is held every four years; it involves all the Test-playing nations and a number of teams advancing from the immediately preceding ICC World Cup Qualifier. The ICC Champions Trophy, previously known as the ICC Knockout Cup, is a shorter tournament held every four years in between World Cups.
ICC Ten Year Plan
This is a plan designed to make all countries play each other for Test cricket over a period of ten years, and was approved in February 2001 by the ICC member countries. Starting from 2002 and running until 2011, it ensures that each Test country will play the other nine home and away over a period of ten years, in addition to any matches the individual cricket boards organise on their own. Thus, India and Pakistan played 12 ODIs and 6 Tests against each other in their respective countries (not including neutral ground ODI tournaments such as the Asia Cup) from 2004 to April 2005, and played a further series of 3 Tests and 5 ODIs in the winter of 2006. However, because of the rigorous schedule of the Ten Year Plan, there is hardly any time left over to schedule other series, and there have been voices criticising the amount of international cricket that is played, with the risk of injury and player burnout as reasons for why this amount should be reduced. The ICC have defended their policy, citing the number of international players in English county cricket as a sign that there is not too much cricket for the players.
The ODI (One-Day International) championship was created for reasons similar to the Test one, and it has a similar structure. The championship does not replace the World Cup; the latter still carries much more significance to most cricket fans.
- "Too much cricket hurting the game: Kapil Dev" from rediff.com, 20 March 2002. Retrieved 22 September 2005
- "Mani dismisses suggestions there is too much cricket from Daily Times Pakistan, 9 July 2004. Retrieved 22 September 2005