A new Test championship has been agreed by the International Cricket Council (ICC), designed to work on a two-year basis.
Commencing after the 2019 cricket World Cup, the tournament will include the nine strongest current Test match nations, with Zimbabwe excluded alongside new boys Afghanistan and Ireland, both of whom are yet to play a Test. However, those sides will get to play occasionally against the biggest nations on an ad hoc basis, as well as each other.
Each Test series will have to be at least two matches in length, with every side playing three home series and three away over the period. At the end, the two sides with the most points will play each other in a championship final at Lord's in 2021.
The ICC meeting in Auckland also agreed to arrange a 13-team one-day international (ODI) league to run along the same lines. It will start in 2020 and will be used to determine qualification for future World Cups.
Fans booking corporate hospitality for next year's Tests at Edgbaston and the Kia Oval between England and India will not see any difference as yet, and will be able to go on seeing the top sides play long series of up to five matches against other. This will include all Ashes series, which have been five Tests as standard since the last six-match series in 1993.
ICC chief executive Dave Richardson said: “Our priority was to develop an international cricket structure that gave context and meaning across international cricket and particularly in the Test arena."
The ICC has also agreed a trial of four-day Test matches where the bottom three sides are involved, following a request to confer such status on the match between South Africa and Zimbabwe that will start on Boxing Day in Port Elizabeth.
Playing four-day Tests is nothing new - five days has only been the standard format since the 1950s - but all the matches in the new championship will be in the five-day format. Mr Richardson said the experiment would give lesser sides, especially the two new teams, "more opportunities to play the longer version of the game against more experienced opponents".
The question of five-day Tests has been a hot debate in recent times due to the fact that little over half of Test matches now go into the final day. In the summer just concluded there were no draws and the only match to go the distance was the West Indies' remarkable five-wicket win at Headingley.
Before England play India next summer, Pakistan will also be touring, with a two-Test series scheduled. Before this, they will visit Ireland and have been confirmed as the opponents for the host country's inaugural Test match, to be played in May. The exact date has not been fixed yet, but it will be a five-day game.
It is likely this will be the pattern in the future, where major sides touring England will also play a Test in Ireland.
Afghanistan are still expected to make their Test debut before the Irish, however, having been in talks to play Zimbabwe in the UAE in one Test and a series of ODI and Twenty20 games this winter.
Image: Getty, from Keith Prowse subscription