Will it be a tall order for England to qualify for the World Test Championship final?
The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works of the ICC World Test Championship schedule and a few Test series have been already postponed this year. Nevertheless, England beat the West Indies 2-1 and Pakistan 1-0 in back-to-back three-match series, closing-in with Australia in the points table.
England are on 292 points, only four behind second-placed Australia, with whom they drew a five-match series 2-2. While England have completed four series, Australia have played three so far.
As mentioned in this column’s April issue, the dominance of Australia and India means that any series challenger for the top two positions would need to target around 500 points.
England’s next is the postponed two-Test series in Sri Lanka – having won all three Tests played there in 2018 – followed by a five-Test away series versus India. England must win both series quite handsomely, to take their aggregate to 500 points; quite a tall order.
India continue to lead the table with 360 points from four series, although Australia have picked up the highest percentage of points contested than any other team in the tournament. Australia will play Bangladesh (two Tests) and South Africa (three Tests) in series away and a four-Test series against India at home. Given Australia’s current excellent form, they are expected to win at least five of their remaining nine matches, which would elevate them to around 500 points.
India’s next series is away in Australia, whom they beat 2-1 in 2018. However, then the Aussies were sans suspended duo David Warner and Steve Smith; and before the emergence of Marnus Labuschagne as a high-class batsman. If Australia were to win the series 3-1 or even draw 2-2, India’s battle against England at home in a five-match series would be made that much harder to reach the magical 500 mark.
Arguably, New Zealand are better positioned than England to qualify. Having 180 points after three series, their remaining series (all two-Test affairs) will be against Bangladesh away, and Pakistan and the West Indies at home. New Zealand have shone on their recent Asian tours, beating Pakistan in the UAE in 2018 and holding Sri Lanka to one each in 2019. New Zealand have also won 2-0 each, when they last hosted Pakistan and the West Indies. Even if they were to draw 1-1 in Bangladesh and win all four of their scheduled home Tests, they would end on 480 points, a total that is likely to leave them with a decent chance of reaching the final. Should all six of their scheduled Tests result in a winning streak, then 540 points will be a tough mark to beat for any team in the championship.
After three-and-a-half series, Pakistan are in fifth position with 166 points. Other than the away series against New Zealand, they will host Bangladesh for the final Test of the staggered two-Test series and South Africa. If Pakistan were to add the maximum 180 points from home fixtures to their tally, they would yet finish at 346.
Sri Lanka are billed to host Bangladesh for three Tests in October, followed by England and engage South Africa and the West Indies away from home. To accumulate 500 points, they need to win a near-impossible eight of their remaining nine matches.
With only 80, 40 and 24 points in the bank respectively, earned after two series by Sri Lanka, the West Indies and South Africa all three teams require an extreme boost in perseverance and performance to qualify for the final. Bangladesh too need an unprecedented winning spree in the remaining matches to keep their chances alive.
Written on 01 September 2020, a revised version of this article appeared on the October 2020 issue of the LIVING magazine.