Smith calls for Test tournament

The South Africa captain wants the International Cricket Council to introduce a new "Test championship" at next week's annual general meeting.

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Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, wants the International Cricket Council (ICC) to introduce a new "Test championship" at next week's annual general meeting in Singapore. Smith, whose team will take a 1-0 lead into tomorrow's third and final Test against the West Indies in Barbados, is concerned about the future of the five-day game with most series increasingly struggling to attract a significant audience.

"All our senior players support a formal Test championship," he told Reuters by e-mail from Bridgetown. "Such a championship would give context and value to every Test match and would stimulate interest in the five-day game worldwide." The opening batsman offered a comparison with English Premier League football. "It is important all Test matches should have equal value and that is what a championship would do," Smith said. "If you look at the Premiership in England, for example, Manchester United pick up three points for a win whether it is against Chelsea [the champions] or one of the relegation strugglers.

"I believe a Test championship is a matter of urgency to stimulate the five-day game." The ICC's member nations have previously rejected several suggested Test championship formats but the latest, a watered-down compromise, could be adopted. If it is introduced, the top four Test teams would play semi-finals and a final every four years over 18 days to decide the winners. Afghanistan, one of the minnows of world cricket, have set their sights on playing in major cricketing events in the future as part of their goal to qualify for the World Cup in 2015.

For Kabit Khan, their coach, it starts with the team playing in next month's ICC World Cricket League, Division One in Holland. Canada, Ireland and Kenya, along with host Holland, will also take part. Khan says the tournament "will be a launching pad for our unfulfilled dreams which is to qualify for the World Cup in 2015". The coach has also targeted Twenty20 World Cups in 2012 and 2014. Afghanistan played in the Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies this year and gave a respectable performance against cricketing powers South Africa and India before bowing out.

Meanwhile, the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise owners have asked the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to consider raising the salary cap for players in the domestic Twenty20 league by US$2 million (Dh7.3m) to $9m. A majority of franchise owners also suggested all players be considered for the auction for IPL Season Four, to be held in 2011. Since a new auction will take place and two new teams - Pune and Kochi - are joining the league, most franchise owners felt the player-retention clause, fixed at four Indian and three foreign players, should be scrapped.

"We have all expressed our views. Most of us want the salary cap to be raised to $9m," Vijay Mallya, the owner of Royal Challengers Bangalore, said. The meeting yesterday was the first without Lalit Modi, the suspended IPL chairman. Modi has been suspended pending investigations of alleged corruption related to bidding for two of the clubs, television broadcast deals and other matters. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Ness Wadia, the Kings XI Punjab team owner, extended his support to Modi. "I hope he is given a fair trial by the BCCI and the government of India." Wadia, however, added that the IPL would continue to move ahead. "There are no differences between the BCCI and IPL team owners," he said. "It was a formal meeting." The team owners' views will be presented to the IPL Governing Council, which meets at BCCI headquarters today.

* Agencies