Ireland Test prospects enhanced
An inaugural England-Ireland Test match at Lord's has become a foreseeable reality after the International Cricket Council specified its pathway to the top table for associate members.
The world governing body has announced a series of 'Challenge' matches is to take place, every four years from 2018, between the team at the bottom of the Test rankings and the winners of the Intercontinental Cup.
The outcome of two five-day matches at home and away is expected to determine whether the associate team is then added to the list of Test-playing nations for the next four-year cycle, in accordance with a plan announced by the ICC two months ago at a meeting in Singapore as one of many major changes on and off the field.
It is following the conclusion of this week's two-day board meeting in Dubai that more details have emerged.
ICC chief executive David Richardson said: "The ICC Test Challenge now opens the door for associate members to play Test cricket and in doing so gives even greater context to the ICC Intercontinental Cup, which will now be a pathway to Test cricket."
Ireland have won four of the six Intercontinental Cups held to date, since 2004, and will be favourites to chalk up a sixth by 2017.
England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Giles Clarke, who has increased power at ICC following the controversial constitutional amendments agreed in Singapore, has already made clear his intention to host a showpiece initial step on to the Test stage - at the home of cricket - should an associate member qualify at the first attempt.
Writing in the 2014 Wisden, published on Wednesday, Clarke said: "The ECB have already reserved a date in the (future tours programme) cycle 2015-23 for a Lord's Test to the associate who win the Intercontinental Cup and go on to defeat the number 10 side in the Test rankings. A glittering prize!"
Ireland have already beaten England once, on a memorable evening in Bangalore at the 2011 World Cup, and some of the players involved then may yet get another opportunity to follow up with a Test shock.
To do so, however, they will first have to emerge again as the outstanding team in an increasingly competitive environment featuring major players such as Holland - who also recently shocked England in Bangladesh at the ICC World Twenty20 - the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan.
The ICC meeting in Dubai, meanwhile, was notable for the attendance of chairman-in-waiting N Srinivasan despite an Indian Supreme Court request that he temporarily cease such duties while investigations continue into alleged corruption at the Indian Premier League.
By announcing a "meritocratic pathway to Test cricket", however, the ICC ensured headlines would lie elsewhere.
A press release read: "The ICC Board approved the introduction of an ICC Test Challenge which will take place every four years between the lowest-ranked Test team and the winner of the ICC Intercontinental Cup.
"The proposal is that the 10th-ranked side on the ICC Test team rankings on December 31 2017, or at the conclusion of any series in progress at that time, will play two five-day matches at home and two five-day matches away against the winner of the upcoming ICC Intercontinental Cup, with the inaugural Challenge scheduled to take place during 2018.
"In the next eight years, two ICC Intercontinental Cup tournaments are planned, with the first to run from 2015 to 2017 and the second to be held between 2019 and 2021.
"The second ICC Test Challenge is scheduled for 2022."
It was also resolved at the meeting to put the constitutional amendments agreed in Singapore before the annual conference in Melbourne in June, and to adopt a "long-term work plan" to aid the implementation of other changes involved.