New Zealand may now be contenders for the World Test Championship
New Zealand’s cricketers bettered their much-vaunted rugby peers, the All-Blacks’ recent performances, by subduing India 2-0 to record their sixth consecutive series win at home. It was the first series whitewash suffered in eight years by the current ICC World Test Championship leaders and number one ranked Test team, India and the first under Virat Kohli. So much so, that although they had steam-rolled opponents at home and in the West Indies last year, this was India’s third overseas series defeat in four tours since 2018.
By virtue of this series win, New Zealand jumped to the third spot on the World Test Championship table, taking their points tally to 180. Despite the defeat, India remain at the top of the points table with 360 points with seven wins and two losses, 64 points ahead of second-placed Australia. New Zealand had started the series with just 60 points and were in sixth place, but the series win had enabled them to leapfrog Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England.
The remaining challengers to India’s ambitions are, Australia away and England at home. Australia will play Bangladesh and South Africa away and India at home. Assuming India win one of their four Tests against Australia and three out of five against England, they will finish with 462 points. Weather permitting, Australia are expected to grab a “winner-takes-all” 120 points on offer against Bangladesh, maybe 80 from the three-Test South Africa series and 90 against India. That would give them a total of 586 points.
The dominance of India and Australia means that any series challenger for the top two positions of the championship table would need to aim for around 500 points. Having said that, there isn’t a great Test team around these days, but a few teams who are very good in their home conditions. Let us see who among the rest has a realistic chance.
New Zealand will play Bangladesh away and West Indies and Pakistan at home, all three being two-Test series. On current form, they are well poised to collect the maximum points on offer, i.e., 360 from these series, and take their tally to 540 points.
England have a tougher task. At the time of writing, their next assignment is a two-Test series in Sri Lanka, followed by Pakistan and West Indies at home, three matches apiece. England need to win seven of these eight matches to get to around 450 points, before their assignment against India. If that happens, though it’s a tall order to beat India in India, two wins from the five Tests will increase their aggregate to 500 points.
Pakistan’s remaining series are against England and New Zealand away, three and two Tests, respectively. They will also host Bangladesh in April for the final Test of the staggered two-Test series, the first one of which was convincingly won by Pakistan in February. Lastly, Pakistan will take on South Africa at home. There is every likelihood of Pakistan adding the maximum 180 points from their home fixtures to their current tally of 140 points. Be that as it may, alien conditions and current form of England and New Zealand don’t augur well, for their away games.
After England, Sri Lanka will host Bangladesh for a three-Test series, followed by away series against South Africa and West Indies. Win they must, eight of their nine matches to earn 500 points. Tough assignment, but not impossible, especially considering the encouraging on-field improvements since the recent overhaul of their coaching set-up.
A revised version of this article will appear on the April 2019 issue of the LIVING magazine.