A Two Horse Race?

India and Australia are almost sure to make the 2021 World Test Championship final

India and Australia - World Test Championship favourites

Indian cricketers celebrate the dismissal of Australia’s Aaron Finch during day three of the third Test between Australia and India in Melbourne on 28 December 2018. (© AFP)

In January, Australia sealed-off a perfect home summer with an emphatic win over New Zealand in the third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Before their 3-0 victory over the visiting Kiwis, Australia also whitewashed Pakistan (2-0). These two series victories have enabled them to narrow the gap with India in the ICC World Test Championship points table. At the halfway stage – three series apiece – India still lead the pack on 360 points, closely followed by Australia with 296.

Marnus Labuschagne led the Australian dominance with 896 runs in the five Tests. Every match against New Zealand and Pakistan finished inside four days. The victory margins suggested that they are almost certain to face India in the 2021 Test Championship final. Australia’s home series against India starting later this year may determine who finishes at the top of the table.

Meanwhile, England dramatically beat South Africa in the second Test at the Newlands last month to square the four-match series 1-1. The victorious team had quite a few inexperienced youngsters – Ollie Pope (aged 22 and playing his fifth Test), Zak Crawley (aged 21 and playing his second), Dom Bess (aged 22 and playing his third) and Dom Sibley (aged 24 and playing his fourth) and Sam Curran (aged 21 and playing his 15th) – and gave the impression that it’s a team in transition from one era to another.

After the remaining two Tests against South Africa, England take on unpredictable Sri Lanka in a two-Test series. The challenging conditions in Sri Lanka would surely test the technique, temperament and fitness of the young England brigade. Their last away assignment is even tougher, a five-Test series against rampant India.

Pakistan do not appear to start as favourites against their remaining “away” opponents, England and New Zealand. Hence, it would be hard for them to force their way into the final.

Following their worst-ever series defeat against Australia, New Zealand currently third in the ICC Test Rankings, need to urgently regroup before hosting mighty India for two Tests in February. If New Zealand can pull-off at least one win, they still could pose a serious challenge. Their remaining series against West Indies and Pakistan at home, and Bangladesh away, all look winnable.

South Africa have lost six out of their last seven Tests. Though the recent coaching overhaul is beginning to reverse the trend, they have a difficult task to make a real fist of the tournament.

Just as their meek surrender in the rain-affected, eminently drawable second Test against New Zealand a few months before, Sri Lanka squandered a valuable 80-run first-innings lead to lose the second Test and the series to Pakistan by 263 runs last December. These two missed opportunities cost Sri Lanka a possible 80 points. Though they have the most favoured schedule, Sri Lanka continue to showcase their inconsistency amidst rare flashes of brilliance.

Since the beginning of 2019, Sri Lanka have played 15 Test innings and being bowled out for less than 300 on 11 times, including six scores under 200. Compare that to India, who have only been bowled out twice in 11 innings over the same period, once for under 300, and Australia have had only 5 out of 23 innings under 300. Not difficult at all to understand why the ICC Test Championship points table looks the way it does!

Let’s hope that the recent changes to the coaching setup will transform the on-field fortunes of Sri Lanka, and they can make possible the impossible through their remaining 9 matches.

A revised version of this article appeared on the February 2019 issue of the LIVING magazine.

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