A genuine Test match world championship and an ODI league will be introduced to international cricket after both were given in-principle agreement by the ICC Board on the final day of the governing body's meeting in Auckland.
While some details remain to be fleshed out, including the points system and the full week-by-week Future Tours Programme, the first two-year Test championship comprising the game's top-nine teams will begin at the conclusion of the 2019 World Cup, with the top two teams by April 2021 to play off in a championship final.
Each competing country will play in six series over that time, three at home and three away, with all series being of a minimum two matches' duration but able to be expanded to as many as five to cater for encounters such as the Ashes.
The first ODI league, featuring the game's top 13 limited-overs nations, will commence in 2020-21, running for two years leading into the 2023 World Cup, before converting to a three-year league in each cycle beyond that. The 13th place in the ODI league will be taken by the winner of the ongoing ICC World Cricket League Championship. Each competing team will play in eight series over that time, each one being played over three matches. The days of lengthier ODI series appears to be over.
Shashank Manohar, the ICC chairman, said that member countries had moved with the times by accepting the need for greater context for international cricket, responding to the demands of broadcasters, sponsors and fans. "I would like to congratulate our members on reaching this agreement and putting the interests of the development of the game first," he said. "Bringing context to bilateral cricket is not a new challenge, but this is the first time a genuine solution has been agreed on.
"This means fans around the world can enjoy international cricket knowing every game counts and in the case of the ODI league, it counts towards qualification to the ICC Cricket World Cup."
While all Test championship matches will be played over five days, the ICC Board also approved the trial of four-day Tests in bilateral series up until 2019, following South Africa's request to play a match over that distance against Zimbabwe during their forthcoming home season. A set of playing conditions for four-day Tests is set to be drawn up by ICC management in coming weeks.
"Our priority was to develop an international cricket structure that gave context and meaning across international cricket and particularly in the Test arena. This has been delivered and every Test in the new League will be a five-day Test format," the ICC chief executive David Richardson said. "However throughout the discussions about the future of Test cricket it became clear that whilst context is crucial we must also consider alternatives and trial initiatives that may support the future viability of Test cricket.
"The trial is exactly that, a trial, just in the same way day-night Tests and technology have been trialled by members. Four-day Tests will also provide the new Test playing countries with more opportunities to play the longer version of the game against more experienced opponents, which, in turn, will help them to hone their skills and close the gap with the top-nine ranked teams."
"This is a significant point in time for ICC members and our collective desire to secure a vibrant future for international bilateral cricket. The approval of both leagues is the conclusion of two years of work from the members who have explored a whole range of options to bring context to every game. The ICC Board decision today means we can now go and finalise a playing schedule for the first edition as well as the points system, hosting arrangements and competition terms."
Numerous questions remain about how the new league structures will unfold, particularly around the fraught issue of bilateral cricket ties between India and Pakistan.