With Twenty20 most definitely here to stay, International cricket tours now have to accommodate all three formats of the game. There is no standard pattern for how many matches of each form are included, nor which order they are played in, but international cricket boards could do worse than base future tours on the current schedule being employed between New Zealand and England.
At the recent MCC meeting in Auckland New Zealand, the co-existence of the three formats of the game was discussed, and the Committee heard from David White, the CEO of New Zealand Cricket. He advocated the 3x3x3 format currently on offer in his country.
Aside from bad weather or a draw, a best of three series ensures a result, and gives fans the opportunity to get into a mini series, without over egging the cricket pudding. To me, as in New Zealand, it makes sense to start with t20, and expand in size. Test cricket remains the pinnacle of the game, and a tour schedule should reflect this. How many people would stay at a gig to watch the support acts after the headliner has played? If this is not a view universally held, those at the helm of the game should set the example.
This was never more pertinent than during the seven match ODI series between England and Australia after the home Ashes series in 2009. England were trounced 6-1, but with the little Urn - arguably the top prize in cricket - already in their pocket, who wants to watch a painfully extended series between the two sides afterwards?
Obviously scheduled to provide some (evidently) much needed ODI practise before the teams jetted off to South Africa for the imminent Champions Trophy, the ODI's felt like a grand anti-climax following an entertaining Ashes series. It was reminiscent of following a Rolling Stones concert with a set from a Spice Girls tribute act. A maximum three match ODI series is a thought echoed by Mark Nicholas in a recent piece on cricinfo.com, as he argues the middle format is in serious danger of being overshadowed on either side by its shorter and longer counterparts.
The Ashes is, of course, the obvious exception to the 3x3x3 principle. The pinnacle of the sport should remain sacrosanct. The Test matches are often scheduled to allow for warm up matches for the visitors, and in some cases, to prepare for a limited overs world event falling afterwards, as in 2009. As I said, an exception to the rule.
There was outrage at the scheduling of only three Test matches in the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy, when South Africa visited England in 2012. The thought of anything less than five Test matches between the top two Test teams in the world horrified many fans. But with tours scheduled well in advance, correctly predicting who would hold the top two slots that far ahead would be almost impossible. Just look at England's record at number one before South Africa took their crown with a 2-0 win in the aforementioned series: six defeats in 11 matches, and Test series losses to Pakistan and South Africa. That sort of record wouldn't help cricket boards schedule around rankings.
A five match Test series is a relic of the old days, harking back to the 1950s when Test cricket was the only form of the game, and only one team toured each season. We're no longer in the days of several weeks shipping players around the world to play, specialist players can now hop on and off a plane to drop in and play in their format, before returning home, or more likely heading off to a lucrative tournament somewhere in the world.
But of course I'm no expert on scheduling a cricket tour. I'm just a fan of a good series. So, whet the appetite with a quick blast of t20, give some food for thought with three ODI's, before sinking your teeth into a meaty Test series. Naturally I am biased to make an exception for the Ashes, with such fervour around the series, it would be over too soon if it featured anything less than five battles. Aside from Aussie bashing, I would certainly advocate a 3x3x3 tour, with Test matches rightly remaining the headline act.